Cruyff's Choice

Whom will Cruyff be supporting on Sunday? The question arose during some Twitter chat I had this morning with Brian Phillips of Run of Play. In a piece on Slate, Brian makes a compelling argument for rooting against Holland. One, Spain plays if not with the creative, hypnotic elegance of Cruyff’s 1970s Dutch teams, then at least with something that can be perceived as stylish (if you like what the Guardian’s Fiver today described as “hypnotic death-by-a-thousand-cuts style of tiki-strangulation”).


Best Player: In the first half of the tournament, I was very impressed with Argentina’s Lionel Messi, which is why I’m so dismayed by the talk that his goalless World Cup was somehow on the same level with Cristiano Ronaldo’s or Wayne Rooney’s disappointing performances. Granted, I’m a fan, and I won’t claim to be unbiased, but focusing on the fact that Messi didn’t score betrays a rather narrow understanding of an elite player’s impact on a game.


Best Player: Schweinsteiger has been the best so far. Tip of the hat to Forlan, who’s been incredible. However, Schweinsteiger’s control of the game, his play on both sides of the ball gives him the edge, in my opinion. The tournament isn’t over yet, though, and my favorite player, Iniesta, shined in today’s game. If he plays as well in the final, then I’ll give it to him. I know that a couple of games does not a tournament make, but I am biased. Biggest Revelation: My first response would be Mesut Ozil, but then I want to give a shout out to the entire German team.


Best Uniform: Uruguay, for the insouciant way they wore their collars. No two players agreed -- should it be up, a la Eric Cantona; non-existent, a la Brazil, or all messed up? All messed up seemed to dominate. Worst individual performance: Ricardo Clark, USA. Phew, he was dreadful. Substituted after half an hour against Ghana? That's a starting pitcher giving up 8 runs in the top of the first. On two grand slams. No one out. In the post-season. Least enjoyable game: England vs. Algeria. Did anything at all actually happen?


Paul the prognosticating octopus picks Spain Tom Williams: don't neglect the holding midfielder Zonal Marking's Germany-Spain preview The jingoistic simplification of the USA's run Fernando Duarte: Brazil's next coach Is Spain the most one-club-dependent team in Cup history? Jonathan Wilson: Netherlands vs. Uruguay analysis Steve Davis: raised expectations likely means Bob Bradley's out

With the group stages over, the sextodecimal matches played, and the quarterfinals about to begin, what kind of a World Cup has it been so far? It has been good for South Africa, with large, happy crowds and none of the violence that pessimists predicted, altogether nothing worse than the horrible vuvuzela. The home nation were eliminated, but not before a glorious victory over France, who scuttled home in disgrace, as did the Italians, and then the English. No, it hasn’t been a good year for Europe, even with Germany, Spain and Holland in the last eight.


How to score when you don't have the ball? Portugal conceded the ball to Spain, who stroked it around for long periods waiting to penetrate the Portuguese defense and then they did. The Queiroz approach was to wait for a Spanish mistake and then punish them. For that to work, you have to have a perfect game where no one makes a mistake and everyone does everything they supposed to do. Portugal was not able to play a mistake-free game. But Paraguay did. The problem with Queiroz approach is that he has players far better than his tactics acknowledge.


The most serious of Spain's torments is its economy. But, unlike Greece, which is basically an underdeveloped country but with high pretensions to being of the heart of Europe, Spain is at the historical and financial core of the continent. What binds the two countries is the artifice that they are both socialist. It is quite different to run a relatively advanced socialist industrial society like Spain's than a country like Greece where governing runs from grandfather to son to grandson, George Papandreou to Andreas Papandreou to another George.


Second Touch

My brother’s favorite description of a technically poor soccer player is that “his second touch is a tackle.” I might add, “and he’s probably English.” There was a moment at the very start of the second half of today’s trouncing by Germany where the flaws of the very essence of English soccer were so clearly evidenced as to be borderline hilarious (if you DVR’d it—and why would you?—go to 45.45 and watch for a minute). 

 Here’s what happened: Schweinsteiger attempts a stupid over-the-shoulder pass, square at the half-way line, and Steven Gerrard picks it off, pings it to Rooney, who checks an


The backup national team keeper, and the esophagus that saved American soccer Jonathan Wilson: one goal may be enough for US Ives Galarcep: US must forget about revenge Mick McCarthy's favorite players of the tournament Zonal Marking: Chile-Spain "a bizarre game" Dunga and Maradona: opposite views, together at the center of the soccer universe Richard Williams: Time for a new chapter in England-Germany rivalry Simon Kuper: the many reasons the English hate their team