Xavi

The Neutral

This is what I like about the Euros: the tournament is an opportunity to watch soccer as an absolute neutral. I like many players (Xavi, Robin Van Persie, Mezut Ozil), dislike others (Arjen Robben, Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo), but have nothing really invested in their success or failure. I’m certain I’ll enjoy watching Ozil do well now that he’s not wearing a Real Madrid jersey, and doesn’t have a petty tyrant as coach.

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And we’re off. The gang is back to spill our wisdom and halitosis upon unsuspecting readers. Why, you may ask, why are we back? It’s been only two years, after all: Have things changed much since our last tournament? Let’s see. Spain is still the best team, in my opinion, but some teams are catching up. Mesut Ozil has matured quite a bit in these two years. Ronaldo’s hair is even more remarkable. Xavi may or may not have lost a step—and his hair is less remarkable. Fernando Torres is still redefining the word enigma. Robin van Persie is peaking.

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Everything said and done around the World Cup in the last month has seemed right and wrong, spot on and deluded—and often simultaneously. First it was the “African Cup.” The dream was ephemeral, save perhaps for Ghana. Then there was talk about a “new Europe”: forget aging Italy, England, and France, here came the vibrant sons of a united Germany. (Though, it must be said, less and less of them are actually German). Almost as soon as it started, however, it became the “Latin American Cup.” European tactical conservatism seemed doomed against the Latin love for the game.

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¿Quién va a ganar esta cosa ? This is the Goal Post. We don’t need no stinking octopus. I can predict the outcome of the match without Paul. The mollusk seems quite nice, has been perfect in his predictions, but he’s only predicted six games before the final, all of them German. I can do better than that. He might be loveable and edible, but I’m cuddly and he ain’t. I did predict the final. I wrote that the final will be Spain vs. Argentina, and Algeria will win. There you have it. The cynical among you will say that it’s Holland and not Argentina, but that’s simply a technicality.

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This should be a game for the ages, if for no other reason than because neither Spain nor the Netherlands has ever won the World Cup. We are going to have a new Champion and the constellation of world soccer is going to change. While the Netherlands narrowly missed it twice in the seventies, losing to the hosts (West Germany 1974, Argentina 1978), Spain has never reached the heights of the WC finals before. If Spain wins, a talented generation will be crowned as the best one in a long while.

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Best Player(s): Prior to the semi-final matches I would have said Schweinsteiger--but he will be watching the final on tv after disappointing against Spain. I will go then with Xavi and Iniesta--yes Villa has scored the critical goals, but it’s the Spanish midfielders who made those goals possible with the metronome- (metronome analogy thanks to the Fiver) like precision of their endless passing. I hear, “Xavi to Iniesta...

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Best Player: Xavi, but not without Busquets. While Xavi orchestrates plays and controls the rhythm like no one I've ever seen, with a patience and precision of a miniature painter, none of it would be possible without Busquets. Busquets gets the ball, passes it to Xavi who passes it on to Iniesta or someone else, forever available--and they do that hundreds of times each game, over and over again, and everyone knows they will do it and they do it still.

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Best team: Germany. Consistently dynamic, the German team was dazzling from start to finish. Beckenbauer wasn’t exaggerating when he said that the performance against Argentina was perhaps the best game ever by a German team. The maturity shown by the German side was even more impressive when one considers the team’s youth: Manuel Neuer is 24 years old, Mesut Ozil is 21, Bastian Schweinsteiger – that veteran – is 25. That’s just amazing. Generous, hardworking and even humble, the Germans were the opposite of the odious French or the smug Argentines.

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There’s no doubt that Germany looked magisterial against Argentina. Late last year, I watched a team pummel Diego Maradona’s team in similar fashion. They ran all over them with astonishing ease, making them look like a third division team on the brink of the brink of relegation. This was a particularly low moment for Maradona, the winter when his team was more messy than Messi. Still, the side that beat them clearly possessed players of superior quality. That was last December when the albiceleste ventured into Barcelona’s Nou Camp. They left the stadium that day defeated 4-2.

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It’s not that I want fewer games or fewer teams or anything.  What I’d like to avoid is that sad feeling of diffusion, mixed with an odd short-term nostalgia, that always rears its head around now.  Remember the first match, that thrilling 1-1 draw between South Africa and Mexico?

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