Saturday, June 28, 2008

Euro Quick-kicks

Michael Ballack may miss the final tomorrow with a calf injury he suffered on Friday. He missed his team's last practice today. Herr Ballack also missed the 2002 World Cup Final, but due to suspension not injury.

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Tino Asprilla's Pistola

Former Colombian international, Newcastle and Parma footballer Tino Asprilla has been arrested for possession of weapons and criminal damage. Why, you ask? Well, because...

Asprilla is accused of spraying a privately run security checkpoint with a machine gun near his farm in southwestern Colombia on April 19. The post was hit by 29 bullets. No one was hurt.

The security guards claim that Asprilla reacted violently when they refused to allow the former Colombia international's friends to pass the checkpoint.

Oddly enough, this hasn't been Asprilla's only incident involving international borders. Tino nearly signed for League 2 squad Darlington in 1998 as a favor to the club chairman, but backed out and fled England, never to return.

Nor has it been the only time his "arma" has gotten him press. His baby arm has appeared in print in South America. The NSFW version is here, but I wouldn't really recommend it.

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Counterpoint: ESPN? No thanks!

For our counterpoint, we turn to one of our commenters. He was super worried about the length of his diatribe, so if you just put tl;dr in the comments, he may not be able to handle it. He does start off with a nice double entendre, so at least he is in tune with the general maturity level of this site's writers.

Won't you please welcome Mike Georger to the fight. He did a heck of a lot more research than I did.

1. Penetration: Hiding the tip

One of the biggest arguments for putting the EPL on ESPN is that it will reach more households. Let us assume that ESPN Classic would be getting it, as the talk was of turning that into ESPN 3 or whatever. Classic is not a mainstay of cable packages like its ESPN brethren; it currently reaches 65 million households. Fox Soccer Channel currently reaches 35 million households, and it has added ten million in the last year and a half alone. So while it would almost be a doubling of the households, over one in ten of American households still gets FSC. Add maybe the six or seven people who get Setanta and you’re looking at even more. It’s a jump to be sure, but not one that justifies the negatives ... now as for said negatives.

2. The Broadcasters

Derek Rae and Tommy Smyth are the mainstays of ESPN and would surely get the big games, I can deal with that, I like Rae but despise Smyth, but I can deal with it because they have good chemistry. However ESPN feels the need to stock their studio teams with former USA players such as Julie Foudy and Eric Wynalda, who are both insufferable. Foudy has been rightfully blasted around these parts, she tries too hard and cannot keep up with the wit of Smyth and Gray. Wynalda cannot be faulted; everyone knew he was a bastard, so why anyone expected him to not come across as a smug douchebag is beyond me. What worries me is decisions like that of giving primary World Cup coverage to Dave O'Brien and Marcelo Balboa. Really we are going to give the world’s biggest sporting event to a baseball announcer and someone with two years of sideline reporter experience? It was a disaster, and ESPN defending it by saying they were trying to appeal to a larger audience by using people who would call the game in simplistic terms. It was a move that was insulting to people who cared about the sport and to me showed how little ESPN understands it. JP Dellacamra, Adrian Healey, and Janusz Michallik are all very good at their jobs, but continually get overshadowed by the 'personalities' that ESPN brings out to try and pump up their coverage. I am not watching to be entertained by the zany Wynalda, I am watching to see the game I love and hear thoughtful insight and the occasional brilliant goal call (attn: Andy Gray).

Sure FSC doesn't have the best announcers for the games, often it's just one guy. However I rarely have beef with whoever is doing the games, they usually show a wide range of emotion and seem to have a good understanding of the history of the game. Truth be told I could not name one of the announcers on FSC or Setanta, and that’s having watched games there for several years, but I guarantee if I couldn’t stand them I would know their names. I have enjoyed the Liverpool league and cup games I have seen on FSC, I cannot always say the same about the Champions League games on ESPN; for Tommy Smyth to suggest Peter Crouch was benched in Athens because he was ineffectual in the tournament when in fact he was their leading scorer, that kind of mistake should not happen and just shows they really aren't putting much into it. Also, what the hell is with the distance covered statistic whenever someone is substituted? Maybe it would be more useful to show how many shots someone had, how many fouls they committed, how many corners they won, their passing percentage, or any relevant statistic. To me this just says ‘hey we are trying to show these guys run really far and therefore are top notch athletes’, this smacks of simplicity and I think just goes to show how little they understand their audience.

3. ESPN Doesn’t care about football or black people.

ESPN sees the game as an investment in my opinion, which at the base of it all I cannot fault them for as they are a business. However to me it comes across that the people at FSC generally care about the game. I cannot imagine anyone working at ESPN putting forth the clear passion for the EPL that you see on Fox Football Fone In. While admittedly the show has suffered slightly since Nick Geber left and broke the dynamic of Chelsea/Liverpool, it still fun to watch and listen to the hosts get pissed off at whatever manager or player is currently hiding his head up his own ass. When England were bounced from qualifying, they went apeshit, and rightfully so because they are English. How many English people does ESPN have, Healey and thats it? You cannot convince me that Skip Bayless or any of the talking head gas bags on PTI or Around the Horn could talk about the game the way the FSC guys do. FSC currently shows SkySports News at night, and their coverage of the EPL is magnificent. They have interviews from almost every manager from every game, and the broadcasters know the sport. On ESPN we get maybe an ESPN Deportes update buried in ESPNews showing one highlight per week. Sportscenter anchors aren't versed in the sport, they don't talk about it, and I don't want to have to goto them to get my EPL news during the week. I'll take a stacked British broad who knows the difference between Man City and Man United over Stuart Scott's booyahs any day of the week.

The Euro coverage is another example. While sure they brought in Andy Gray, look at what the BBC is doing with their coverage. Their coverage team consists of Martin O'Neill, Alan Shearer, Alan Hansen, Gordon Strachan, Marcel Desailly, and others. Thats one of the best holding midfielders ever, one of the best defenders ever, and four men who became Officers of the British Empire for their service to the game. Now that is a group of guys I would want to hear talk about this game. Face facts, a British network is going to put together a better package than an American one.

My last point here is a bit of the screenshot evidence of ESPN not giving a shit and just airing the tournament for mid afternoon ratings. These were taken Saturday and Sunday after the Holland and Spain games. The first was taken at 5:52 p.m. Roughly a half hour after Russia bounced the ember hot Dutch. Third story on the side banner, not too shabby, but really the NBA Draft gets the lead item? I gave them the benefit of the doubt thinking maybe they would update it and bump it. Four minutes later at 5:56 I was proven incredibly naive. Holy shit really an NFL piece gets the main headline? Some games had gotten the main story earlier in the tournament, so why when the NBA and NFL are both done does it get fifth billing? Ridiculous. Immediately after the Italy game I went to the gym but when I got back at eight I logged on and saw this. NOWHERE two and a half hours after a game between two of the best teams in the world. They paid millions upon millions of dollars to air this tournament and they don't even put up a story about it in their sidebar of news stories? You cannot say ESPN gives a shit about this. If you look at FSC.com after most games in the tournament they have had between one and four articles about each game. Not just AP stories either, they actually have people writing things, such a novel idea. ESPN would rather put up three stories about the NFL and two about NASCAR than one about the second biggest sporting tournament in the world.

One last cheap shot here, Soccernet.com is garbage. If you want to get information on any league outside of the big six you are out of luck. If you want to know who scored in a World Cup qualifier from the Oceanic region, you are going to have to go elsewhere. And the worst thing is that their most interesting articles on the Bundesliga and La Liga are in German and Spanish respectively. Hey thats great appeal to other countries, but realize there are English speakers that want to read those articles too.

4. Beating up government officials over the slow progress of High Definition TV

As I understand the situation, the reason there is no HD here is that the HD technology in England is vastly inferior to ours, and the cost of bringing over an HD feed is four times that of a regular one. Also, as I understand it again, Sky controls the feeds, and this is something that isn’t going to change. As much as ESPN would like to make statements that they are looking to expand, they don’t have much of a presence in England and the FA isn’t going to give them the rights to the English feeds no matter what. The NFL wouldn’t give MNF to Star Sports Asia to show in America. Sky had a monopoly until recently, and even if they are outbid by ESPN I don’t see them losing the primary rights. So ESPN would be stuck with dealing with Sky, so essentially having to pay out the ass for HD. Paying for it for one tournament every two years is one thing, paying for it for three or four games a weekend for 36 weeks is a different story altogether. The money thing is a whole separate issue. Is ESPN willing to pay close to a billion dollars to get Setanta’s share? This isn’t going to be a ratings bonanza, and they may not see it as that great of an investment. Sky paid 2 billion for their share, and actually managed to increase the number of games they show from before the split; their stranglehold isn’t going to be loosened. Add to the fact that FSC is in bed with Sky, which is own by Uncle Rupert’s son, ESPN could face a tough task even getting in the game. FSC and Setanta have both made press statements that they are looking into HD feeds, but I sadly would not expect it any time soon regardless of who is in control.

5. Can I get a ruling on this: The Boston Red Sox factor.

Lets face it, if ESPN gets the rights to the EPL we will be seeing predominantly United and Chelsea games, maybe with some Liverpool and Arsenal games thrown in. Sure I will get to see Fulham and their Americans play when they play a big four team, or see City peak early in the season if they have to travel to London or a bit west, or Spurs get shellacked, but only by the big four. What I would like to see is the occasional game between teams outside of the top four I seriously doubt that will happen on ESPN. Even if Setanta is hard to get, with the current two network setup having games on at the same time is less of an issue. If ESPN got control of all the games, I can’t image they would show more than one at a time As they will be aiming for popularity, they will only show games involving the big teams.

This will inevitably lead to more and more United and Chelsea fans. There is not an American fan of United under the age of 35 that is not a bandwagon jumping dickhead. As for Chelsea maybe knock the age group down a few years and it’s the same thing. I myself am in my mid twenties and have been following Liverpool since I was 15, when I witnessed Michael Owen at the 1998 World Cup. So naturally I interact with support bases of my age group, and for United and Chelsea fans here, that consists mainly of trophy hunters. Now to be fair there are some bandwagon Liverpool supporters since 2005, and the same for Arsenal, but I think most would agree it is nowhere even near the magnitude of the former two.

What will happen is your average fratboy recovering from a crazy night of date rape, Busch Ice, and Halo, will stumble across a United game and a week later be rocking a Rooney shirt. I don't want to deal with this bullshit, as the bandwagoners are usually the most irritating and least educated fans in the game. Back home in Charlotte I goto a British restaurant for games and there is always a strong contingent of Liverpool supporters there, who I can have a good conversation about the past and the future with. Usually there are a few supporters of the opposing team, Newcastle ones are the best to make fun of, and I have no problems with them. However if theres a United fan there I always remind them they weren't any more relevant than Nottingham Forest until they started buying trophies, and I get blank stares if they are my age. The words 'Nottingham Forrest' or 'Sir Bobby' fall on deaf ears of most United fans here, and the last thing I want is more fans of a team that consistently beats the piss out of mine but have no idea why I am so upset about it. I may not like Arsenal or Everton, in fact I loathe them, but rarely do I meet a supporter that I cannot talk to intelligently about the game. Maybe the key difference here is that United and Chelsea have fans in America, the rest have supporters, and we don't need more fans. I am fine with a small yet fiercely loyal fan base. I think I just like the coziness of getting shitfaced at nine in the morning down at the bar watching Setanta with a group of strangers that I relate to, that will disappear if ESPN takes over. Call it snobbish if you will, but its not like the game has gone underexposed in this country, people of my age group have had many chances to catch onto this game, and if they can't appreciate it, fuck them, let them have their Monday Night Football, I'll take my Saturday Morning Football with a cold Carlsberg.

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Point: ESPN? Yes, please!

Last week, in the comments of the wonderful, tag-teamed, fuck-you-Mannix piece, I engaged in a short debate with Mike Georger about the good versus bad of ESPN getting into the business of showing lots of soccer stateside. Such an argument is precipitated on the rumors that ESPN is shuttering its Classic channel and looking to replace it with, possibly, an ESPN3. This new channel would have soccer, and the EPL, as its cornerstone. While I think that such a move would be positive for American soccer viewers, Mike is vociferously against it. This Point/Counterpoint will allow us to make our arguments and allow you to weigh in as well in the comments.

Since I framed the question (and I am right), my point will go up first. I have had the benefit of a couple of extra days to ponder the points, including the Germany-Turkey televised debacle, so please take that into account when reading.

1. ESPN is the pulse of American sports
This goes almost without saying. ESPN has done such a great job of highjacking the American sports psyche that it is almost impossible to follow a sport on TV if ESPN does not show it. Hell, to be honest, you have to try really hard to follow a sport, on TV or not, that ESPN does not show. Some of you would probably be surprised to know that the NHL, ostensibly America's fourth sports league, crowned a champion last month. Of those that do know that the Stanley Cup wrapped up, I would venture that half of you do not know who won. If it's not on ESPN, it just doesn't penetrate into middle America.

It's a point that Cardillo at That's on Point has been making for years. If ESPN would just put their muscle behind soccer, it's coverage in all media would grow exponentially. And that is one great thing that we stand to gain here. If ESPN were to launch a soccer-heavy channel, then more highlights would show on SportsCenter. If the highlights show, then thick-headed sports editors at the nation's newspapers, whom I believe are generally older than the average American soccer fan (citation needed, I know), would see the increased TV presence and expand soccer coverage within their pages. More coverage in the papers and magazines means more interest in general. It's a slippery slope argument, yes, and I concede that it's never going to be a 1:1 ratio as the media fans out, but increased ESPN attention to the sport will definitely see an uptick in American attention in general.

2. What good is more interest if people don't get to watch?
So, the European Championships wrap up tomorrow, and ESPN will be mostly out of the soccer business until the Champions League starts back up in the fall. Undoubtedly, and I have experienced it personally, there is more interest from the average American in soccer than there was before the Champions League final and this fine past three weeks of European play. So, where do the fans go now? There is MLS to watch on ESPN2, but that level of play is not the same.

I watch television is two places: home and work. At home, I have cable (Charter), and at work we have DirecTV. Both systems have GolTV and FSC available, and DirecTV has Setanta available as well. Both systems require extra fees to access these channels. It is safe to say that a good portion of America which is newly interested in soccer do not have these channels already available, and, if they did, do not know where they are amongst the 300 other channels on air. The point being, that if ESPN, or an ESPN3, were the channel where they could sate their newly acquired soccer hunger, then they will continue to do so. But if, say, my father-in-law wanted to watch soccer, he's not paying for an extra tier of service to do so.

3. ESPN already has an international presence
This is by far the most speculative point that I will make. The theory is that ESPN is already set up worldwide. According to this (.pdf alert), ESPN reaches over 175 countries with programming broken up into over 20 different regionalized and specialized channels. These channels all have local talent which are contracted with ESPN. If, say, ESPN were to get the EPL rights for America in 2010, then ESPN would already have people in England who could do the job of announcing the game. This would get rid of two things, possibly. First, it would get rid of the dreaded broom closet which ESPN's American-based soccer announcers are said to commentate out of. They watch the feed the same as we do, and talk about the game. As anyone who has ever paid close attention to Tommy Smyth can attest, it is not the best situation. When something happens, Tommy will speculate endlessly on it without being able to pull up a replay directly. If there is a card, the team has to wait for a feed replay to show them what it is. Quite simply, it's not the best way to call a game.

Secondly, if ESPN were to actually have on-site announcers for the EPL, then we could avoid a situation like we had on Wednesday, where the announcing team saw just as little of the action on the pitch as the viewers. Other nations, which had their announcers on site, were able to set up mobile audio feeds to continue to call the game when the screen blacked out. ESPN could have done the same with on-site commentators.

Of course, this depends on the amount of money ESPN is willing to spend after outbidding any of its USA rights rivals. If they cheap it up, then we will hear more of the broom closet, unfortunately.

4. HDTV, plain and simple
As anyone who has been so lucky as to watch the Euro games on HDTV can attest, it is lovely. ESPN is apparently willing to upgrade its channels, if there is HD programming to go on there. Currently, of course, the space occupied by ESPN Classic is not HD. But there would be very little, if any, HD programming to put on there. Sadly, American Gladiators was not ahead of its time in that way. But, dammit, if ESPN News is going to be in HD now, then why wouldn't an upgraded ESPN3?

5. $$$$ for American soccer
In two ways

First, there is the money that ESPN is paying to US Soccer for the rather newly-acquired rights to all USMNT games. No longer will we see the games split between ESPN and FSC, it's all ESPN's bag now.

Secondly, these games on ESPN will bring a greater audience, an audience willing to spend money on whatever junk they see. It's all about commercialization here. A wider audience means more ad revenue. More as revenue means a greater push by the channel. A greater push by the channel means more people willing to watch and buy those replica jerseys the American sports fan likes so much. Throw is a scarf or a hat as well, and that's jingle that is music to Guus Hiddink's ears. And anything that can be used to get that man's attention works for me.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

In Memoriam: Turkey



To the Turks, everything is "shurla burla", which means "like this, like that". You never know what will happen. All foreigners are "ayip", they're considered dirty.


This European championsip has been more like a film festival than a football tournament. And though there will be a winner come Sunday-- either Spain or Germany will take home the proverbial Palme d'Or-- there have been daily theatrics in the lead-up, an assortment of small wonders that certainly deserve their own prize. In a just world, where a team is rewarded in proportion to the joy they bring the fans, Turkey would return home as kings. In ours, they will have to settle for UF's footballing Prix de un Certain Regard, the award for "most innovative and audacious work" of Austria/Switzerland 2008.

Join us after the jump, where we will go on to praise, then bury Turkey.



Turkey did not belong on the field with the Germans on Wednesday night in Basel. They had no business battling back (or so we've been told and read in the papers) from a 2-1 deficit in the 86th minute. Certainly, Terim's men should have never had the opportunity to outplay Germany in the first semifinal match of the European Championship. No, they should have been eliminated long ago.

***

The first brush with death came in their second group stage match with hosts Switzerland. It had been an half-drab tournament to that point. No one had come from behind to win. In most of the early group stage games the only scoring had been done by the winning side.

And so it began, in the 57th minute, in front of 42,000+ at St. Jakob Park. Semih Senturk, the 25 year old Fenerbhache forward, dropped a bolt of lightning on the Swiss-- an equalizer just 11 minutes after he first crossed the touchline. It was Semih's first of the tournament and by miles his least memorable. Arda Turan would poke home the winner in stoppage time, and Turkey were on their way. A loss to Portugal firmly in the past, it was time for the Czechs and a win-or-go-home group finale.

***

Like Turkey, Bruckner's boys had been mollywhopped by the dazzling Portuguese and given a tough go against Switzerland. They entered the crunch match in Geneva knowing that a tie after 90 minutes would mean penalty kicks. But after 71 minutes, it all seemed an afterthought. A cananading header from the big fella Koller and a 62nd minute add-on from Plasil had certainly assured the Czechs' place. Turkey were disjointed, bordering on listless as Jan Polak smashed a cross into Volkan's left post. The Czechs were mere inches from 3-0.

That third goal would never come. Four minutes later Turkey found life as Sabri found Altintop (or "gold ball" as Tommy Smyth reminded us every 2 minutes for the entirety of the match) who found Arda Turan at the back post for the Turk's first roost of the evening. By now the rain was falling in heaps and the pitch had turned into a slip 'n' slide party. The Czechs were reserved and content to allow the likes of The Artist formerly Known as Colin Kazim-Richards to launch off speculative satellite balls from 35 yards out. Kazim was never going to hit the target and if he did, there was always the Cat in the Hat there to snip up loose ends. Into the 87th minute, we lurch forward... Terim is enraged at the shot selection and Nihat is imploring his side to (the Turkish equivalent of) "play your game."

Nihat knew that nothing was over. That on a wet pitch no keeper was infallible-- especially mercenary mug like Cech. So when ESPN camera's cut to the low angle for Altintop's whipped-in cross, there had to be doubt that any keeper could gobble it up with ease. Nihat knew it, and so he stayed in as the Czech defender began to pull out. His reward was the silver ball at his foot. A sitter he dragged into the OOS to tie it. It was 2-2, and we were headed for penalties. Surely.

Shurla Burla, indeed, as not more than three minutes later Nihat was in again. This time on a clever through ball from Tuncay-- the Czech backline frozen, thinking deeply we imagine about goal number two. He faced up with Cech to the keeper's right and from just inside the box dipped a precise strike under the crossbar. Turkey, if you could believe it, and there is no fucking way a sane man could, had won. They were going to Vienna for quarterfinal date with group winner Croatia.

***

Slaven Bilic's men, now the "Heroes of Klagenfurt" for their triumph over Germany just days earlier, were easy favorites to surge past an increasingly beleaguered Turkey. Injury and suspension had meant Fatih Terim would not be with his best lineup. That included goalkeeper Volkan, who would miss this match and a possible semi-final because of some tomfoolery against the Czechs.

All but two of the Turkish starting XI were on yellows as the quarterfinal kicked off. In goal was Recter Rustu, the Ottoman Jens Lehmann. Unlike their previous encounter, Turkey were more careful against the clever Croats. They would dominate possession (56% to 44%), but do little with it. We trudged on to extra-time, then a second 15 minutes.

Rustu, who had been as solid as necessary for 120 + 4 minutes, must have thought it was time for PK's as he went pranced off his line like a child. Skipping after a ball meant for Modric, he watched as the soon-to-be Spurs genius headed up and over his wandering ass and into the path of super-steady Alzonzo Mourning Klasnic. Quoteth ESPN live commentary: "Croatia have won it!" And, certainly, they had.

***

Shurla Burla? You never know what will happen. It's kind of like the Turkish version of "Der Ball Ist Rund," only, like, really dark and sinister. Exactly, we imagine, the kind of thoughts and feelings running through Croatia's dark heart as just seconds later ... with the referee taking one last deep breath of Vienna air... Semih Senturk played down a long, downfield prayer and lashed it across his body into the roof of Pletikosa's net.

As if there ever was a question, Croatia released its collective bowels after all but one of its PK's, allowing Turkey-- Again!!-- an unthinkable escape. Three times now, in consecutive matches, each more shocking than the last, Fatih and the fellas had prevailed against all common sense and wisdom. Their reward? Germany

***

As the loyal UFer might know, your humble reporter decided to attempt a little immersion trick for Wednesday's semi-final. I had hoped to liveblog the game from a nearby Turkish restaurant, but as the wireless revolution has yet to sweep into "Sahara's" on 2nd Avenue, alternative plans were engaged. The festivities were hosted by ü75, while I hustled for a table at lovely, open-air Sahara's, intent on doing some correspondent work.

The afternoon began as a Julie Foudy's face-style mess. The bar was closed down to make room for more tables-- more reserved tables. I was escorted, the palest man in the room, they "ayip," to a wraparound couch planted just precisely behind Sahara's monster flat screen HDTV. My next mistakes-- the first one being my implicit Jewyness-- were in ordering a Corona (idiot...) and offering my credit card (Teutonic surname stenciled in) to begin a tab. There was only one way out and so I flagged down the waiter and said the magic words.

"Doner Kebab... the ENTREE."

From here on out things were different. Within a minute the game had begun and I was sharing a table with a very Turkish man who knew very little English. His only words to me or anyone in the place were "In to Semih." Sage.

With UEFA's new policy of clearing the yellow card tally only after the quarterfinal, Turkey never had a chance. Volkan, Emre, Turcay, and Turan were all suspended. Nihat, a hero at St. Jakob Park a few days earlier, was out with a thigh injury. He wasn't alone.

No one in Sahara's was ready to talk about reasons why not, and if they were, I surely wouldn't have known a thing about it. The only (loud) English-speaking gentleman was seated a table over from me and I think he was partial to the Germans. I deduced this when he clapped and ran out after the game.

As for the Turkish partisans, they began with tempered glance. Calm. I was focused on the delicious doner kebab. Worth the 14 bucks, really, check it out some time.

Expectations being what they were, Kazim's rocket off the crossbar in the 13th minute set the place ablaze. The international odor of "Hey, we can beat these fuckers" was released into the room. The idle chatter finished. All were at attention. Entire families, grandmother and all, turned their seats toward the screens.

So it goes, so it goes. A half-volley off the foot of TAFKACKR hit the crossbar again before falling to Ugor Boral (who?!?), who slipped the ball through Lehmann's legs. Cue Mayhem. And a free beer, another Corona, for the Lad.

"Just shoot on that scum fucker!," I yelled at no one in particular. My companion nodded. He understood!

It was then, as the free drinks began circulating and the one woman younger than 50, a hostess I believe, started to do some absurd hip-wagging dance (which I've since saved to the hard drive), that it occurred to me. Turkey win and they are going to burn this fucker down! And if Turkey lose? They are going to burn this fucker down!

By halftime the mood has soured, but only a bit. Germany equalized through Schweinsteiger minutes after Boral's goal. It was a goal that is never scored if Turkey has a proper central defense in place. Still, a draw at the half, and the run of play clearly favoring the 'dogs... there was nothing to complain over.

Cue now the 25-man smoke break.

Cue then the German infiltrator's explanation of Turkish football: "The Turks you know were allies to the Germans in World War I. And in one famous battle the German general ordered the Ottoman cavalry to await his order on the flanks. 'We'll rough them up he told the Turks, then you come in and clean the ground.' The Turks agreed but when the battle began the horses charged immediately. The Germans were shocked but fought on and won a decided, bloooody victory. After the field was cleared, the German commander approached his Turkish counterpart and asked, 'Why didn't you wait for my whistle?' The Turk came off his horse and explained, simply, 'There is no pride in waiting, only in winning.' So attack attack attack! That is Turkish football!"

I've paraphrased there. The gentleman offered me a "raki," a kind of Turkish ouzo, before beginning his story. By the time he'd finished I was enthralled. Perhaps even dribbling at the mouth. The waiter leaned to me and explained that, for my next glass, consider mixing in some water and ice. No one drinks that shit straight. Oops.

The second half was a mess. Better to be forgotten. The international feed was stricken by a bolt of lightning. In Sahara's, loss of the picture was met with relief, not anger. Who could stand it?? By what I imagined to be the hour mark the first in-house cigarette was lit. Not more than ten minutes later, still without visual evidence, we were informed the Germans had gone up by a Klose header. A Rustu howler, too. I don't think the point was made clear enough for our crew, as no one screamed or responded in any exacting way.

More black. More Foudy.

It has to be the 80th minute.

"Another Raki! These things are great!"

This Ayip was chilling now. Even as time was running down on Turkey on that blackened screen there was calm. And you know what? Do you fucking know what?!? The screen flashed back on with the image of Semih "in to Semih!" Senturk in his teammates' arms. The bastard had tied it. Again.

Glass breaking. Man kisses-- my head and the top of my right ear too slow to escape. More Raki! They've done it again. My tablemate is now pacing, looping around our table. Turning left, like a good Turk!

There was a song now. Screaming. Hummus.

***

I refer you here to my pal ü75's topline to his liveblog:

Soccer is a game for 22 people that run around, play the ball, and one referee who makes a slew of mistakes, and in the end Germany always wins.

Gary Lineker's word, of course. And on this night, like so many other, prophetic indeed. The squirrely left back did it.

Turkey were done. They had lost. But tell me, looking back on this tournament 20 years hence, what will it be that you tell the young folk about?

Joachim Low's sweat stains? Ok, maybe.

Philip Lahm? No, sir.

What you'll tell them about is Turkey and their holy trinity of football miracles. About Fatih Terim and how much of dirty pimp-ass managerial job he did. And Rustu in the shootout against Croatia. And Semih!

In to Semih!











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Euro Eulogy: Portugal


Note: I would have been posting earlier today, but I only just finished masturba-I mean, working, after seeing Fowler and Macca playing on the same pitch again for the first time in ages


Well, Cristiano. You were knocked out of the tournament days ago, and it's still hilarious to me. You and your gelled, flamboyant collective of footballing talent couldn't get it done against the efficient Germans.

Might this be a good moment to talk about your move to Spain now?



Portugal were enjoyable to watch, for the most part. Some of the showboating late in the game against Turkey was a bit much, but then again, that's the role Portugal plays in tournaments. You're the older brother of the family, the guy who knows he's good and lets his charm ruin him at the most inopportune time.

You ever try to date two or more girls at the same time? For the first month or so, everything is going swimmingly well; you have seen them all a couple of times and managed to explain away your disappearances to each of them when you've been seeing one of the others on the side. And then, you take one to dinner, and the others show up separately for a bite to eat at the same restaurant, and you end up walking home covered in soup, spittle, and with a couple of buttons missing from your shirt.

That, my friends, is Portugal. Blessed beyond God's will with talent at all positions, they are apt to a brainfart when it counts the most.

Deco was masterful at times, and downright ordinary in others. C-Ron seems to think that his natural gift and avalanche of accolades is enough to win matches, but it's really not. Even when the Dallas Cowboys were ridiculously loaded with talent in the 90s, they still lost from time to time. Remember this.

Boswinga is off to Chelsea, as is the now-finished manager, Big Phil. How many others will follow them? Could we see the Algarve transplanted to Stamford Bridge? Heck, he's already got 3/4 of the backline, what's another 2 or 3 matter? Deco's been linked, as has the pacy but greedy Quaresma.

Drogba's going to need to learn how to say "fuck you" in yet another language if this carnival keeps up!

In all seriousness, it's hard for any of us to say that we didn't see this coming. The quintessential counter-attack team, like many within pissing distance of the Mediterranean; they're a nightmare moving forward, but an embarrassment at the back. It's fun to watch when the scenario keeps repeating itself: C-Ron, Carvalho and co losing in the knockout stages to a far more disciplined team. Sure, Portugal got back into it as the clock ticked down, and Germany looked rather rattled, but it amounted to little.

You have to wonder when Portugal will learn. Could they pull a Russia and bring in the ultimate ball-breaker tactician to finally get them over the hump? Charisma is clearly not something needed in management there, as the players have more than enough to go around.

No, the only way for them to move forward is to strip their coaching candidates of a sense of humor, and pick the most miserable, irritable one. It's the only hope they've got: in a team full of petulant children, who's going to enforce the law?

There's only really one option: Avram Grant.


Seriously though... C-Ron might well pack a bag for the Costa del Sol and spend his seasons in the Bernabeu, but constant failure at the international level is never something that sits well.

And if a real ornery bastard isn't given the job, well, we know where to bet our money when South Africa '10 rolls around.

Read more on "Euro Eulogy: Portugal"...

Goodbye, Will

Without getting too maudlin, let's just say that UF will miss the work of Will Leitch at Deadspin. We met in the comments section there, and his voice is the reason any of us bothered to be on that site in the first place.

From the fine fellows at Melt Your Face Off, comes this winsome tribute.



Goodbye, Will. Enjoy your corporate money.

Read more on "Goodbye, Will"...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Showdown in Chinatown, Pt. 1: The Match


All photos by the indomitable Spectator. That dude is poison with the lens.


People hung from the chain-link fences, while a drunk Everton fan perched precariously on an overhanging tree limb and kept yelling the name of Steve McManaman’s high school. It was a frenzy down on Chrystie Street, one that I somehow managed to force my way into.

Through some good fortune, we stumbled upon a couple of press passes for the event, and with a good degree of fatigue and sunstroke, Spectator and I took roost near Hirshey and a whole host of ESPN/MLS/AP employees for the Steve Nash v. Claudio Reyna charity match, the Showdown in Chinatown.

Rhyming name aside, it was a bit of a mess early on, as the crowds lined the outsides of the pitch three and four deep, with people standing on cars, or climbing bushes, or climbing each other, or hanging from street lights and exerting every effort to suspend themselves in their vantage points for the duration of the match.

I showed up 5 minutes before the start, and slowly wrangled my way through the masses at the media entrance in order to get in, making it just before the opening messages from the two captains and their corporate supporters. On my way through the crowds, I heard a million names and rumors mentioned: Altidore, Beckham (boy, I wish), Messi, Kaka, more stars from the NBA. Perhaps Amare was coming? Marion?

The match itself was a joy to watch. As SF from The Offside Rules pointed out, it was "like watching FIFA Street in real life", a sentiment I couldn't argue with. Steve Nash, along with his ridiculously-stacked squad, put on a fun show, as did Reyna's gang of NBA pros and a lad from Chelsea who is much better when he's not under pressure.


After the jump, some more pictures, some more thoughts, and the two teams.

TEAM NASH
---
Steve Nash
Steve McManaman
Raja Bell
Robbie Fowler
"Leandrinho" Barbosa
Thierry Henry
Maurizio Bacci (fashion photographer)
Rob fucking Jones
Simone Sandri (NBA TV)
Venanzio Ciampa (event co-organizer)
Davide Di Malta
Mark Quarino [Ives explains who he is]


TEAM REYNA
---
Claudio Reyna
Baron Davis
Juan Pablo Angel [Keith: don't worry, he was fucking useless and still injured]
Jozy Altidore
Solomon Kalou
Gregg Berhalter
Jason Kidd
Alessandro Nivola
NBA writer Marc Stein
Mike Rodrino
Giovanni Savaresi
Goalie whose name I forget [but played a blinder]


And so we stood, huddled around the edge of the pitch, the atmosphere akin to a viral Nike commercial, watching as the stars put on a masterclass. All their tricks were uncorked time and again, as if the burden of an irate manager had been lifted from their shoulders. In a real match, they'd be berated and hounded for their showboating, but here, the aim was simpler, relaxed, more obvious: entertain.

Simply put, a bunch of athletes free for 90 minutes (yes, they played close to a full 90) to do as they please.

A free-for-all.

And it was absolutely fucking wonderful.

Despite sweating through my work shirt by half-time, there was little to gripe about. The production company responsible for the event hadn't really thought things out too well: aside from the obvious logistical problem of having enough free space around the park for the public to watch, the touchlines were so close against the fences that we ended up squashed back as far as we could go, three-deep ourselves without counting the thick line of spectators outside who were angling for a fleeting moment of unimpeded vision.

The touchlines had press on one side and various VIPs, luminaries, entourage members (including Caron Butler), and children from various after-school programs crammed around the edges. With players sprinting at full-speed from time-to-time, not to mention the wild abandon with which some of them took potshots at the goal, it's a miracle no-one was seriously hurt.

Henry and a few others did end up flying into the crowds throughout the match, and several shots from Nash and co. ended up lashing against the fence, narrowly missing heads, camera equipment, and memorabilia ready to be signed.

One girl did get a ball square in the face, but when it's one of your idols who took the shot, how mad can you really be?

Davis put at least two shots well over the fences and down onto Rivington, as did some of the others, but the balls always came back. This surprised me more than anything.

Seeing Nash assisting Fowler and vice versa became oddly commonplace after a while, but the people who diligently retrieved the balls dispatched to nearby Prince or Greene or Rivington Streets completed the most stunning passes of the whole event.

If it had been me, I'd have been off, disappearing into Chinatown with a shiny silver match ball for my own pick-up games.

Instead, the sun began to ease on our shoulders, and the game flowed smoothly. Rough recap of the goals:


- Kidd square to Kalou, low shot inside the left post. 1-0 TEAM REYNA

- Davis tap-in off the rebound (sounds about right?) as Kalou's shot was saved. 2-0 REYNA


- Henry shot takes awkward bounce off keeper, Berhalter tries to head clear but knocks it back towards his own goal, McManaman tap-in. 2-1 REYNA

- Macca feeds Nash from the right, sharp finish into the top-right corner. 2-2

- Nash shot saved low, Barbosa tap-in. 3-2 NASH

- Nash shot deflected in front of goal, rebound passed to Fowler for the simple tap-in (just like the old days). 4-2 NASH

- PENALTY! Baron Davis handball, reacted by trying to take a jump-shot with the ball in hand. After some theatrics, Henry smashed it home, high into top-left. 5-2 NASH

- PENALTY! Handball on one of the walk-ons whose name I forget, Reyna with the finish low to the right. Titi gets a yellow-card for "dissent". Some things never change. It's those Gallic gesticulations. 5-3 NASH

- The LFC duo link-up, smart, weighted throughball from Macca to GOD, easy finish. Reyna calls for offside... flag stays down. 6-3 NASH

- PENALTY! Another handball from Davis. By this point, he'd truly forgotten which sport he was playing. Idea: same teams playing basketball. Think Macca's got range from behind the arc? Fowler dispatches the PK with ease. 7-3 NASH

- Henry rocket from 18 yards barely kept out [note: TH was holding nothing back in the shooting department], Nash first to the rebound. 8-3 NASH

- Reyna square pass from the left to Kalou, who slides it home inside the right post. 8-4 NASH

- Late tap-in as all the retired athletes struggle to keep pace... Nash rounds things out with a rocket with the right foot. 9-4 NASH

FINAL SCORE: TEAM NASH 9, TEAM REYNA 4


An impressive performance all-round as a lot of the NBA guys had some serious skills. I mean, Barbosa's from Brazil, so you figure he has to have some moves, right?

Henry was a joy to watch.

As much as I despised seeing him score goals with such grace and ease against my lot as he terrorized the EPL for some time, he was on top form yesterday. Of course, it's a charity event, but still: TH dealt with the expectations of the crowd and gave us all exactly what we wanted.

Kalou... well. You'd swear that he was a different player than the one who got mishandled by Avram for most of the season. No pressure, no real defending, but lots of ball skills and pace. If only he was playing on a team that could get the most out of him! Stepovers, backheel flicks, deliberate misdirects on his passing. Absolutely phenomenal stuff.

It was also a treat to see Jozy up close for the first time. Granted, I'm not much of an MLS expert, but I've heard his name and his potential bandied about for a while on the UF email threads, and he's gonna find a lot of love in Villareal if he delivers on half of it. He became rather anonymous in the second half, but he played his part. The sad thing was that, despite the massive crowds and the sheer diversity of everyone gathered, not many people still knew who he was. Give it 3 years, and that should change.

On the other side of the ball, watching Fowler and McManaman together again brought a tear to my dehydrated eyes. They have lost the pace and the stamina, obviously (that's what playing 20 minutes a week for Cardiff City or working the Sky Sports booth with the hirsute Richard Keys will do for you), but they linked up with the same precision and flow as ever. Seriously.

I was screaming like a schoolgirl at their 1-2 passing and unspoken connection on the pitch. Rarely did a pass stray between these two, regardless of who was running where, who was in the way, or how far apart they were. It became a little unfair after a while, as the two would always pass to one another first before moving the ball along (except in the 2nd half when Robbie starting laying it off to Henry as they advanced).

It made me laugh to see Team Nash start with Fowler and Henry, two of the most prolific and beloved strikers in Premiership history, playing in central defense alongside one another. Somewhere, Steve McClaren can breath easy, as there's one manager in the world with less common sense than him.

Barbosa and Bell played well too, as did Nash.

In Steve's case, the skill is there. He could have easily gone pro with soccer if he'd wanted to, perhaps taking the torch of Owen Hargreaves and trying to fudge his way onto a more glamorous national team. However, one can hardly blame him for his decision-making in life, considering where basketball is in the public eye compared to our beloved game. Leandro and Raja made it up as they went along, making the most of their natural athleticism and getting more confident on the ball as the match went on.

Also, full credit to Baron Davis. A guy for whom soccer skills do not come easily. He scrapped around and struggled to find his place in the match, and eventually realized that he was not there for soccer tricks, but for entertainment. Two handballs, including one sublime slap that he tried to blame on the crossbar, one yellow card [amazingly], and one perfectly-executed wrestling takedown on Robbie Fowler.

And finally, we must spare a thought for the goalies. Treated like sacrificial meat to the hungry lions, they took an assault of shots at both ends as players lined up to take shots. Quarino was almost knocked out towards the end as Savaresi let one fly from close-range, knocking the goalie down and leaving him dazed.

Truth be told, we were all dazed by what we saw. When do you ever see events like this?

Read more on "Showdown in Chinatown, Pt. 1: The Match"...

Open Thread: Spain v. Russia


[Photo: MediaFax Photo]

So, it appears we may have not coordinated everything properly here at UF and we are without a liveblogger for the second semifinal match between Russia and Spain. We'll give it a go with the open thread.

Russia has been certainly ascendant in this tournament. It was hard not to be after the opening match 4-1 thrashing it received from Spain. But, that was before Andrei Arshavin reappeared on the stage. Since he returned Russia has looked very dangerous and Guus Hiddink has his men attacking, attacking, attacking. Very exciting football.

Spain on the other hand started out the tourney in sterling fashion, but seems to have cooled a bit. Although, it still has not lost a match, advancing to this stage with a PK shootout victory over a negative Italian team.

Hopefully, this match can live up to the excitement of yesterday's...and maybe, just maybe...a Russian player will get a couple of women for his efforts.

After the jump, the lineups.


Russia
Akinfeyev, Anyukov, Berezutsky, Ignashevich, Zhirkov, Zyryanov, Semak, Semshov, Saenko, Arshavin and Pavlyuchenko.

Spain

Casillas, Ramos, Puyol, Marchena, Capdevila, Senna, Iniesta, Xavi, Silva, Villa and Torres

Spain is wearing their unlucky yellows.

30 minutes in, we have a nice back and forth match. A Fabergas substitution allows me to stroke myself in Glee. Nice cross to...the Keeper.

40:45 Long runs by the Russians, but the Torres/Fabergas hookups are coming fast and free.

46 min: We're wrapping up with Xavi's free kick getting lost, my accountant walking into my office every 3 minutes, and I'm missing the action.

So far Arshavin has played "meh" but the style of play on both sides has been great. There is no Italy grind 'em out match.


Read more on "Open Thread: Spain v. Russia"...

Iraq Disbands National Team

I've been doing some research and collecting information on Iraqi football lately. Essentially, it boils down to things are really different over in Iraq for many obvious reasons. In fact, much of it is downright scary. Despite knowing that things are less than stable over there, it comes as a complete shock that the Iraqi National Football Team has been disbanded after failing to progess in WC 2010 Qualifiers.


The federation said the national side's failure to reach the later stages of qualification for the tournament in South Africa had disappointed the Iraqi people, and the entire team needed to be rebuilt.

"The Iraqi FA has decided to disband the team as of now and also not continue with the services of Adnan Hamad as coach," a federation statement read.

"It is really sad that Iraq lost in the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Iraqis are not happy with the results.
Clearly.

The Iraq FA intends to rebuild the team for the FIFA Confederations Cup. But, it just seems so odd to completely dismantle it. I hope the best for the Iraqi team, the nation could use some positive news.

Read more on "Iraq Disbands National Team"...

Showdown in Chinatown -- More to Come


Just a quick teaser for the full recap coming this afternoon from Lingering Bursitis. It was a fantastic afternoon, the sort of event that barely seemed real. Luckily, we have visual proof that it really did happen. Jozy, Titi and Reyna on a humid, sunny day in New York. [Updated with hi-res pic]

Read more on "Showdown in Chinatown -- More to Come"...

"Team Set Me Up" - DC United Stadium Plans getting turfed out



DC United has been petitioning the DC Government for a stadium of their own. The primary team owner, an urban real-estate developer, made some promises to build the stadium, in exchange for some contracts. Well, he didn't win the contracts (more DC contract boondoggles?) and now wants to take his stadium deal off the table, and wants the city to bankroll it. A tale of money, property, development, and the wonders that is the Local Government.
I've been following this locally, and it has a several twists and turns.
Initially, the majority owner of DC United (a San Franciscan by the
name of Victor McFarlane) offered to build the stadium with his own
money, if he was allowed to develop the surrounding area. However, he
lost the contract on the development of the area (which is slated for
mixed-use retail/office space) and he has since been claiming that the city
needs to build the stadium. Stadiums in other cities have been built
for $100MM or so, DC is offering (weakly right now) $150MM, and he is
claiming they need $225MM for their stadium.


Poplar Point

The location of the new stadium is an area of SE DC called "Poplar Point". As the picture shows, it's jammed in between the Anacostia freeway, the South Capital St. Bridge, and the 11th St. bridge. In other words, while it is served nicely by a combination of freeways and metro stations, it is still termed "Centrally Isolated". The MCI center was smack in the middle of downtown, and the Nationals park is on the waterfront

Other stadiums like the MCI center downtown (hockey/basketball) and
the new National stadium (baseball) in SE are able to meld into the community
(the baseball one is a very big question mark as the area down near
the old navy yard was special in its own way).

The Post article which nailed the reason for the concern was Mark Fisher's article where he used the number: 35. This is the number
of home dates that are played by DC United. When you do the math, and you look at the return, each home date will need to bring in $320K worth of revenue. I'm basing this on $225MM cost and 20 years to pay it back (which may be too long. Many owners start whining when their stadium is ten years old). In this term, they are correct. We haven't even discussed the environmental issues surrounding the open parkland, though personally the place has always been a no man's land - near the water, but so close to nothing, and it's ideal for noontime trysts from the local military bases.

Councilman Jack Evans (the one who made the Nats stadium happen) will probably make a good run at getting this going because
he has two agendas - he wants to see the Anacostia development go
through and work and he thinks the mixed use idea can be made to work
again. Second, and more importantly is he wants everything out of the
old RFK stadium because he wants to level it and tempt Dan Snyder into
bringing the Redskins back into the city. RFK is there, and DC United
will get trampled the first whiff of the Redskins moving back.

Victor MacFarlane, primary owner of DC United, has been running into some financing issues recently, most notably in Southern California with CALPERS. They had to get bailed out by Dubai money. Struggling real estate market + lack of contract to build retail/office space = no money for stadium from Victor.

The best part - Councilman Marion Barry is in the mix!! You can not be denied
the political enjoyment.

Read more on ""Team Set Me Up" - DC United Stadium Plans getting turfed out"...

This Is Porn For Half Of UF

There's a new Nike ad out there featuring Fernando Torres. You might have noticed that this here blog is populated by a lot of Liverpool fans, led by Lingering Bursitis who is an actual Scouser. The one time I met him, I didn't take any valuables with me.



If you don't hear from LB anytime in the near future, just knock on his door and give him a few minutes to compose himself after watching the ad.

Really, who am I kidding, I support Liverpool as well. Just give me a few minutes to clean up.

After the jump, a kickass video of the Kop singing the Siren Song of Torres, Torres.





[H/T Fantasy Premier League]

Read more on "This Is Porn For Half Of UF"...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Post About Nothing



These are getting old. But seemingly the Ronaldo-to-Real rumors already seem older. What der Fuhrer says about Arsenal is spot on though.

Anyway, time to put these to bed, kids. Unless someone wants to script one with Redknapp losing his shit over £9 million for Crouch being turned down.

Read more on "Post About Nothing"...

The Good, The Bad, The WTF

I know, I know. You've waited all day for this. I promise you that this is well worth the wait. You shan't be disappointed. If you are in fact disappointed, keep it to yourself. No one likes a whin(g)er.

This week, we step away from our Euro focus and look to South America for inspiration. Trust me, there is fertile ground down there for the job. Deportivo Pereira ply their trade in Colombia in the top flight. None too noteworthy as a squad, they have a lot of guys named Carlos in the team. Now and forever, to me at least, they will be known as the club with the worst shirt I have ever come across. It is so awesome, they will be accorded as many pics of it as I could find.


In the immortal words of Stephen A. Smith in his first act for ESPN, filling in on the Dan Patrick radio show five or so years ago:
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH
(seriously, it went on for about 25 seconds)
Oh my goodness, this is one hell of an eyesore. When I first saw the thumbnail of the above pic, I thought that the shirt was all yellow and red, with a detail overlayed of the back red bit. Boy howdy, was I wrong.

This shirt dates back to 1994-95, and may have only been used in the domestic cup. That doesn't excuse it. Just look at it. This is way worse than the Dutch '88 shirt, I think. It's just too much. Plus, it's virtually useless for both the name on the back

and the team's badge.

Plus, what's up with that sponsor? That's about as eye-catching as the first English shirt sponsor, Kettering Tyres. If you have to compete with such a shirt for notice, you had better pull out the Birthdays graphic, methinks.

One more, from an artsy angle, before we go. All images from my new favorite site to find horrible shirts, classicfootballshirts.co.uk.

Read more on "The Good, The Bad, The WTF"...

Euro 2008 Liveblog: Germany v. Turkey

Soccer is a game for 22 people that run around, play the ball, and one referee who makes a slew of mistakes, and in the end Germany always wins. - Gary Lineker


That's it, I surrender. There is no way my new-favorite team (Euros only) comes back from this one. Word is that Turkey will have about 14 available players for this one, with one of the subs being the third-choice keeper. There is absolutely no way they play their way past the Germans, is there?

It's still 11-on-11 on the pitch, no matter what kind of superiority in numbers the German bench has. There is an outside chance, however slight, that Turkey can do this. It is up to me today, UF's least-disciplined liveblogger, to bring this one to you today. Join me as I dissect what will surely be a 5-0 German win

Lineups:
Germany (4-5-1): Lehmann; Friedrich, Mertesacker, Lahm, Rolfes, Metzelder; Schweinsteiger, Ballack, Hitzlsperger, Podolski; Klose. Screw you, ESPN
Turkey (4-5-1): Rustu, Balta, Gokhan Zan, Sabri, Boral; Topal, Aurelio, Altintop, Kazim, Akman; Senturk.

So, Podolski starts up top, and presumably Gomez is banished to the Black Forest. While you are waiting for the match to start, go check out some Germany highlights in Lego form Here and Here.

note: The Likely Lad, who had hoped to live blog this game from a Turkish restaurant, will still be at said restaurant. He'll be sending us updates on his fancy phone, some of which we will pass on to you.

note mark II: For those who need your weekly Good, Bad, WTF fix, that will be going up at 6.00. Just hold out, it's worth it.

-10 .00 ESPN is on. Foudy is foudying it up. Schweinsteiger is Art Alexakis, to continue with my "Looks like a guy who got played on MTV in the '90s" analogies.

-7.00 It looks like The Likely Lad is not one you should rob. He just confessed to living in NYC without a Blackberry.

-4.00 Get ready for the anthems. Will Kazim Kazim sing?

-3.00 I'll admit, I'm openly rooting for a Lehmann mistake or two to send Turkey through. Can they naturalize David Healy for this match?

That sucks, Chad. But welcome anyway. I'll try to be faster than ESPN 360.

-1.00 Uh oh, Lehmann looks short in this lineup. You can't teach height, as we found out from Koller in my last liveblog.

Rustu!, Ballack! Speak English, fuckers!

0.00 Kick Off! Let's go! Turkey actually have 7 subs on the bench. We'll see if more than two get off of it.

2.00 The field in Basel still doesn't look any better. Germany content to possess early and make Turkey run.

3.00 I wonder if Loew will have significant pit stains like last game in the stands. And does he have all of his shirts hemmed like that, or what?

5.00 I wouldn't want to run into Terim at a shady NYC Turkish restaurant, I'll tell you that.

6.00 Turkey get a couple of crosses in, but come to nothing.

7.00 Kazim gets a shot off, right at Lehmann. Turkey are pushing forward when they get the ball. Probably trying to steal an early goal and then sit back.

Lehmann forced into another save when Lahm blows it.

9.00 TLL update:
Been here 5 minutes and have already gotten in trouble. Started a
tab. with my credit card. with my name... my last name which means
WAR in German. They tried to seat me behind the TV . Only got out by
ordering $14 doner entree

11.00 Germany are definitely sitting back early and not trying to push and pull a depleted Turk squad. Odd.

12.00 Another Turkish foray up front. They'll be dead by 60 minutes at this pace.

13.00 Dear Germany, playing balls in the air to a lone, unsupported striker 40 yards out won't win you anything.

And Kazim off the crossbar! Follow-up shot goes a yard wide for a corner. This team is going all out, as alluded to in the comment section. Corner goes for nothing.

15.00 Turkey are getting in behind the German defense. Looks good, so far for the Turks.

16.00 Klose writhes in pain after attempted tackle misses him. Free kick straight to Rustu.

17.00 Schweinie dives, no call. Germany still on attack. Cleared out for corner.

18.00 Ballack could not push his way to the corner, cleared by Rustu.

19.00 As I clarified up top, both teams are running a 4-5-1. We hate the 4-5-1 at UF.

20.00 TLL is predicting a riot if Turkey do win.

22.00 Goal! Turkey go on top after a cross from the right is directed off the crossbar. The rebound falls to Boral who puts it through Lehmann's legs 1-0 Turkey

23.00 That's Boral's first international goal.

24.00 Well, they have their goal. Do Turkey sit back, or do they attack some more? Germany look disinterested in playing at all.

25.00 Aurelio does not get enough of his head on a corner to bother the Germans. The game is still in the German defensive third for the most part.

26.00 Goal! Scheinie latches onto a Rolled Podolski cross from the right. Touches it into the upper back corner 1-1

27.00 Totally against the run of play there. Can't fault the soft finish. It was very nice. Rustu in no position to do anything.

28.00 Two rather old keepers here. Will that be a factor in the end? Neither looked good on the goals, but then keepers rarely look good when giving up goals.

29.00 Easy header collected by Jens. Another close call on the other end. Corner for Germany.

31.00 TLL in the middle of a chaotic scene. Someone bought him a beer after the first goal. We'll see if he is still alive after the equalizer.

31.00 There it was, almost the quintessential Jens gaffe. He went out for a free kick that almost floated over his head into the goal. Corner kick cleared by Germany for another corner. Turks maintain possession.

33.00 TLL, still alive, informs us that the Turks hate Tommy Smyth, too.

34.00 Podolski gets free on the right, gets into the box, and blows it over the bar by two feet.

35.00 Jens has had to make 5 saves so far. Should've had 6.

36.00 Hey! I can watch MLS on this very same channel! At least the NBA is over.

38.00 Free kick Turkey right outside the box. Lahm tried to kick Kazim in the face. He missed, but still. Wall is set. Time being wasted. Kick taken as a near post shot, goes to the middle of the goal, Jens punch save.

39.00 Blood on Rolfes after he headed Akman in the back of the head. Both are off for treatment and stitches.

41.00 Game has opened up 10-on-10. Both sides push for shots. Turkey almost through on goal. Serioglu just over from 22.

42.00 Turkey look to have tired a bit.

44.00 Frings may have to come on for Rolfes. They haven't stopped his bleeding yet.

And Rolfes is back on, never mind.

45.00 +1 Tweet Tweet I am surprised by the lack of German passion. They are not really robots, are they? Also surprising--this rather undisciplined Turk squad have no first-half cards.

Back after the break, but before I go another TLL update:
Overheard of guy talking about Turkish football, "There is no pride in waiting, only in winning." That guy did not watch the first half of the Czech-Turk game, then.

TLL: 25 man smoke break at the restaurant.
Foudy: "Turkey is playing like they have nothing to lose" Both teams can go home here sweetie. It's not like Germany can make the final after a loss.

45.01 Here we go. Alright, I'm sick of coffee and too wired. Maybe Germany's play can bring me back down.

Frings on for Rolfes.

46.00 Podolski rampaging down the right, and crosses 20 yards past anyone.

47.00 Why did Demirel get a two-game ban and Schweinie only get one, anyway?

49.00 Lahm gets lucky not to get a yellow as he pulls back on a Turkish player who was past him.

50.00 TLL is still alive. He's at a table with a guy who speaks no English. They seem to agree that Lehmann is piss, though.

51.00 Lahm bundled over in the box. It looked bad, but no penalty.

52.00 RK5 = +1

52.00 Lahm definitely fouled. Probably outside the box, though. Ah, the benefits of replay to second-guess the ref.

52.00 TFA- thanks for the answer

53.00 Yellow Card Senturk for foul on Frings (?) I didn't see it, I was too busy laughing at RK5, still.

55.00 Germany is getting into the attack in the second half. Turkey may have done all they can do. Also, Turkey look to have gone to a 4-4-2.

Hitzlsperger over from 25.

56.00 Metzeleder down. Not touched on the sliding tackle. Still has a kick-ass playoff beard.

57.00 Altintop takes down Ballack dead center 28 yards out.

57.00 Ballack into the bottom of the wall. Black out!

58.00 This is in no way going to help my ESPN argument. Georger, you win!

59.00 I'll steal from soccernet if I can.

60.00 Tech problems in Switzerland (lightning), other networks have the same problem.

60?.00 Altintop over from distance on a free kick.

Okay, it seems to be affecting the Beeb as well. No picture making it out of the country, I'm afraid. Turkey had another off-target shot from 20 yards.

ESPN sez radio guy sez Turkey is toying with Germany. AND WE'RE BACK

66.00 And nothing of note.

67.00 Lahm easily beaten by Serioglu, but his cross goes to no one.

68.00 Sixth Turkish corner, only two for the Germans. Headed from the near post to the top of the box. Nada here, I'm afraid.

69.00 Are we really going to extra time again? Neither team incisive over the last seven or so minutes. Kazim appeals for foul, doesn't get it.

70.00 Lahm looks to be the weak spot for Germany's defense. Look for Turk attacks exclusively down the right in the last 20 minutes.

72.00 Jens content to waste time with free kick from offside call.

72.00 Of course, Turkey attack from the left and get a good look, but right at Jens. Hitzlsperger just wide from 30 or so the other way.

73.00 Yes, Tuncay's absence is felt by us all, I think.

75.00 *yawn*

76.00 Did they switch these teams for Italy-Spain in the blackout?

77.00 Bye Bye feed. Just as well.

TLL: First in-house cigarette is lit. the only thing my pal here says when
Turkey has the ball is, "In to Semih." Also the only englis hes
spoken... broken glass!! getting edgy in here. but im 3 rakis in,
feeling brave.

Germany miss from in close. Did Gomez get in?

78.00 Goal Klose. It was awesome. I wish you could have seen it.

At least ESPN has the fan zones to show.

Apparently Rustu blew it, maybe even Cech-style, on a cross.

Soccernet guy says he has feed again. Why don't we have ours?

Erding on for Akman.

Correction--BBC has pictures. Fuckers.

TEASE!

Turkey seem to be on a steady attack, but nothing in the net yet. Of course, stoppage time is still a little but away.

GOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL 2-2 Serioglu
Both keepers now at fault. Lehmann beaten softly near post. Rustu way misjudged a cross and had the ball headed in front of him.

88.00 It's Turkey time now, bitches. 2 minutes from injury time.

89.00 Senturk tries a ridiculous shot one minute before he should have.

90.00 Goal Lahm goes near post. There's still time!

Fed in by Hizlsperger. No picture.

Rustu sucks balls. Five German shots on goal, three goals.

Time must be up by now. Two injury minutes on the clock.

Game over. Fuck the swiss TV people. Turkey had a free kick from 30 yards out at the end, but Metin put it over.

3-2 Germany Final
Turkey had 22 shots (15 on goal); Germany 9 (5)
Possession 63%-37%
Finally, the top quote I put up there has a bunch of resonance, doesn't it?

Read more on "Euro 2008 Liveblog: Germany v. Turkey"...

Euro Eulogy: Croatia


When I did my preview for Croatia, I didn't really think that they had much of a chance after losing Eduardo, despite hyping their darkhorse status. Sometimes I write the opposite of what I think, which is probably a holdover from my dayjob. But Croatia lived up to the hype, upsetting the Germans, and then coming within 15 seconds of making it to the semifinals. Why Slaven is a fucking rockstar, after the jump.



There's not much to say about Croatia on the football side of things. They beat the Germans, generally played inventive, attacking football, and were ultimately undone by a miracle shot at the end of the quarterfinals. Then again, some would say that they deserve their fate after being unable to break down the depleted Turks in normal time. Surely there was some convoluted Balkan grudge going back to the 1300s they could have drawn on, right?

The loss to the Turks didn't just hurt the team, either. A Croatian newspaper enlisted the help of a psychiatrist to help its readers out. The advice:

"The country must look to the future," advised Vlastelica.

"The supporters must think of September when the 2010 World Cup qualifiers begin.

"From now till then it is vital that you don’t disrupt your daily routine, do not stop working and above all do not take tranquilizers."

Bilic himself apparently wanted to quit coaching and go fishing, but apparently he has decided to stay on with the national team through the 2010 World Cup.After all, he can pretty much play any rock club in Zagreb after what went down over the past several weeks. There are probably several chairman in the Premier League who would be willing to allow dodgy earrings and chainsmoking on the touchline. Bilic can probably name his price and get at a job at a medium-big club. The fact that he's staying means we are going to be treated to more amusing press conferences involving Bilic and the English press, as Croatia are drawn in England's qualifying group. In fact, I'm laying odds that Slaven ends up coaching the Three Lions at some point in his career.

In terms of players, Luca Modric gave us glimpses of why he is going to be a huge bust at Shit Heart Lane. He's just too small for the Premiership, and he's going to get kicked to pieces. Although his choke in penalties means he is going to fit in quite nicely with Spurs. Verlan Corluka looked good at right back, and should have that position locked down for Citeh come August. Ivan Klasnic, who had a kidney transplant, is on his way from Werder Bremen to Wigan, and Olic Pranjic, and Petric will all be on clubs' radar screens.

The whole team now must deal with the burden of expectations going into the next World Cup. Expectations can be brutal, as the French showed in this tournament.

Read more on "Euro Eulogy: Croatia"...

Euro Pick'em Recap


The Quarterfinals are well done, and the Semis are a little later today. It must be killing you to know just who is the best at our pick'em so far. Fret on it no more, the answers are here.

While we never fully trust online personas, I think it is safe to say that the Simpson entry is legitimately by one Tim Simpson. Not that we know who that is, mind. Anyway, he was a co-leader after the first round matches with 15 correct, and added another 2 out of 4 in the quarters for an additional 6 points. 21 points in all for Mr. Simpson

Those following Simpson in a four-way tie for second are Miller, shawn wrong-phillips, Ballack's Bollocks, and Smeets. All sit on 19 points. The entry for shawn wrong-phillips must be commended for being one of two players to get three of four matches correct in the quarters. The other? Me.

That's correct, Joey Barton's Cellmate also correctly called three out of the four matches in the second round (Fuck you Germany). In so doing, I have moved to the top of the unofficial UF writers race with 17 points. To protect the vanity of the others, I will not mention the other places at this time, though I will point out that there is one of us who is in the single digits. He claims to have "forgotten" about the pick'em, but I don't believe him.

Read more on "Euro Pick'em Recap"...

"Put me in boss!".."Who the fuck are you?"


Bigus again....Prolific this week eh? Well I am going to continue my epic summer journey of useless facts and capricious ramblings with a look at the humble substitute and a new rule that could force you to take note of the unknown reserve. The hardworking wannabe and the young up-and-comers...

As many of you may have heard, Premiership teams will be allowed to have 7 substitutes on the sidelines next season. The news sent joy through the bones of every mediocre player in the land and the cheers from Stoke could be heard in Hawaii. Louis Saha celebrated the news with a party the likes of which had never been seen before. Guests included Tony Warner, Jon Moncur and Harry Kewell. Spurs wannabes Danny Rose and Kieran McKenna danced the night away.

The new rule will also apply to the Carling and F.A cups. David Nugent is apparently upset as this will now require that he takes part in the warm up.

Football League clubs will still only carry 5 subs on the bench which is a good thing for my lot. I can't think of seven outside the starting 11 worth a spot warming the wood.



Did you know?


- Until 1965 NO substitutes were allowed at all.


- Clubs have been able to use 3 subs since 1995.


- In 1999, teams could name five subs on the bench.


Keith Peacock of Charlton Athletic was the first substitute ever when he ran onto the pitch on Aug 21st 1965. He was a midfielder and replaced injured Goalkeeper Mike Rose on 11 minutes......eh? I guess it didn't occur to have a back-up goalie in those days!

The first Scottish substitute was the famous Archie Gemmill. He replaced a sweaty called Jim Clunie on Aug 13th, 1966 (Scots have always been a little slow to get with the programme).

The first International substitute was German Horst Eckel. He appeared in a game against Saar on the 11th of October 1953.

Well I hope you learned a little something from that...I will be back later in the week to share my night out with Norwich youth coach John Revell. Don't forget to send in YOUR questions.


- Bigus.

Read more on ""Put me in boss!".."Who the fuck are you?""...

Question of the day



Celebration! Sad none of us are playing today


Turkey arrived at Euro 2008 as longshots to escape the group stage. They got whacked by Ronnie and the Dancing Poofters in their first outing, then went down a goal in the first half of their second match, against host Switzerland. But late goals from Semih and Arda Turan earned them their first win and well, thus began the madness.

Here then is the question. Just how improbable is a Turkey win against the Hun this afternoon? Sport is full of surprises--the '69 Mets, Joe Namath's Jets, Villanova in '85, Fresno State baseball and NY Giants football this year-- but this is surely a doner rack too far.

So again: Where would a Turkish triumph in Basel today rank on the list of modern sporting upsets?

Have away.

More reasons why Terim's boys have absolutely no chance of winning after the jump...



In short:


-Coach Fatih Terim has only 12 outfield players available for today's game. There've been whispers (likely untrue) about his using the third-string keeper in the midfield.


-Germany are really good. And they are Germany (lest we forget.)


-Nihat (tying and winning goals against the Czechs) is done for the tournament with a muscle inury. Servet Cetin and skipper Emre Belozoglu are out today, as is Tumer Metin (though the coach says he could potentially come on as a sub for "30 minutes at most.")


-Tuncay of Middlesbrough, arguably their best all-around player in the tournament, the guy who strapped on the keeper gear when Volkan got booted from the group finale, is out with accumulated yellow cards. Arda Turan, Volkan and Emre Asik also will miss out on suspensions.


-They'll be depending on the likes of The Artist Formerly Known as Colin Kazim-Richards to (help) fuel their attack. And if you saw the look on Nihat's face as Kazim shanked two long-range prayers as time ran down against the Czechs, you know this is a significant problem.


-Then there's backup keeper Recber Rustu. Like his counterpart today, Recter is prone to the occasional howler. That may fly against Croatia. But this ain't Croatia. Turkey need to play "the perfect game."


So the odds are against them. No doubt. Just as they were in each of the previous three games. And in each match they've upped their resolve... and pulled a larger rabbit out of their collective tarpus.

Today, that rabbit might look more like a bear.

Read more on "Question of the day"...

REMINDER: The Norwich Q&A

Just a quick reminder about Bigus' open call for questions in the lead-up to his interviews with John Revell, the Norwich U-12 coach.

Drop 'em in the comments here, here, or in the UF inbox.

We have a good day in store... come on Turkey!

Now if I could just get past this limoncello haze from last night...


- LB


Read more on "REMINDER: The Norwich Q&A"...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Celebrities and soccer and UF and you

I'd be lying if I said I was sober right now. Two hellish days in the publishing universe, and the long-awaited return of a close friend from a long internship far afield.

That being said, it's down to business on UF. We received word last week of a celebrity soccer match, and, being the wonderful ace reporters we are, we jumped on some press creds, and we're looking forward to bringing you some coverage of this magnificent event:

STEVE Nash, who could have played professional soccer instead of basketball, is putting together an all- star soccer match for charity on June 25 at Nike Field on Stanton Street. The "Showdown in China town" will feature four-time World Cup star Claudio Reyna, Liverpool greats Steve McManaman [Note: one of my all-time favourite LFC players] and Robbie Fowler, plus Nash's fellow NBA stars Raja Bell, David Lee and Baron Davis.
So, drop us any Qs in the comments. We've been assured of some face time with Reyna and Nash, but we'll try to get in with the rest.

We aim to bombard them with a camera and a dictaphone..... in the spirit of things, if there's anything you wish to know from them, let us know!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I must go back to drinking.

Oh, and Thierry Henry will be there. Ridiculous!

After the jump, some videos of Fowler, Macca, Henry and co. in action.





Read more on "Celebrities and soccer and UF and you"...

Tuesday Backpasses: See? It's all better now

You heard it here first (well, second if you read soccernet), Spain will lose because they are wearing their "unlucky" yellow shirts on Thursday [Soccernet]
Topless WAG alert! It's an alert so you go there real quick like. [The Spoiler]
British clubs make some money off of their players in the Euros (sidebar) [The Sun]

Non-Euro stuff after the jump

USA to be grouped with Guatemala, Cuba, Trinidad & Tobago. Top two advance [American Soccer News]
MLS rejects $1 million bid for Kenny Cooper from unnamed club. Um, why exactly? [American Soccer Reader]
Rafa wants $100 million for transfers. Selling off Torres would get half of that [Daily Mail]
Consider this a two-fer. You learn an Aussie term as well as get to read a soccer related story. Spectator (not ours) runs onto pitch and "King Hits" a player. [Manly Daily]


See you tomorrow as we return to "all-Euros, all the time" coverage.

Read more on "Tuesday Backpasses: See? It's all better now"...

Euro Eulogy: The Netherlands


Joep Smeets has rejoined us once more, although this time, his prose is decidedly more maudlin, thanks to the manner in which Russia dismantled the Oranje this past weekend.

Joep, the floor is yours. Just limit the tears, please.



I am entirely too disappointed right now to search for the humidity level in Basel for last night, but it must have been one-of-a-kind. For this was no ordinary humidity; not only was it high enough to completely slow down the Dutch, it also appeared to have no apparent effect on the Russians whatsoever. Holland looked slow, uninterested and all around rather lethargic. Russia, on the other hand, kept up an amazing pace for not just 90, but 120 minutes.

We Dutch are at a loss for words. It is not as if we haven’t been eliminated before. We’ve gotten used to the feeling over time. But what we’re not used to is the enormous yawning void that comes with being eliminated and having absolutely no one to blame but yourself.

Last tournament, it was those dirty Portuguese, the one before that it was our idiot coach, who we were quick to renounce as one of our own – and thusly, not blaming ourselves – after substituting the best player on the field for an old has-been who was to mark Nedved. I’m no English native speaker, but I always thought that the word "marking" meant that you had to be able to at the very least keep up with a player to do so. Which didn’t happen.

In 2002 we weren’t there, but we had put the blame of the failure to qualify firmly on the shoulders of the unlikable Louis van Gaal, so no problem there then.

I could go on for a while like this, but I’d rather not mention the debacle that was the Euro 2000 semis, when we missed five (five!!!) penalties in front of a home crowd.

This year there is no-one to blame. The last time that happened was 1998, and we comforted ourselves rather successfully with the thought that we had played pretty football, and because goals are such an arbitrary manner with which to decide who is the better team, we didn’t hesitate for one second to claim the moral victory, which we could live with.

It may not have gotten us any silverware, but silverware is for the flashy, and the most common saying in Holland isn’t “doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg”, which roughly translates to “just act low-key, that’s crazy enough as it is”, so we could do without crass trash like trophies.

We briefly considered a couple of candidates; the referee, naturally, because that is every football fan’s first gut reaction.

We could bitch about the absolutely shocking decision not to send off that Russian defender – and we will, believe me, at great length – towards the end of the game, because the charge he made on Sneijder had occurred after the ball had crossed the backline.

This decision, which effectively rules any contact between players when the ball is out of play to be fair game, is the only measly thing we can think of to vindicate us.

Unfortunately for us, it isn’t even enough to claim a moral victory.


Read more on "Euro Eulogy: The Netherlands"...