The Counter-Insurgency Spain Must Wage
June 30, 2010

How will Spain manage to crack Paraguay? They have struggled against teams that have packed players into the final third and dared them to elegantly kick the ball about the midfield, with Spain looking so refined and yet so lacking in goals. Paraguay are, of course, the supreme example of this genre in the tournament. (I’m very moved by Sasha’s paeans to their lyrical dullness.) Spain should be able to pick that lock. But the lameness of Fernando Torres has been a major liability. Without him running rampant, teams have horded resources and used them to swarm Xavi.

The Best Day Yet
June 16, 2010

The tournament came alive today. Three games and each of them excellent. Chile are fast becoming everyone's second-favourite team and not just because Marcelo Bielsa is superbly bonkers. They play with verve and ambition and good luck to them. Later, against an admittedly poor South Africa, Uruguay were very good. Again, virtue - in the sense of attacking football - was rewarded. Forlan and Suarez ran rings around the poor hosts and, whisper it, a quarter-final place for Uruguay is far from inconceivable.

Beyond the Line
June 11, 2010

In early April, silly flags were already flapping all around Beirut. A non-resident would think that dignitaries from the entire United Nations were about to make an appearance, adding a touch of color to our city. According to numerous sources, the flags had sprouted much earlier. As early as January, my sister made sure to tell me. I don’t think any earlier than that, my mother said. People were too busy with Christmas and New Years, and in 2009, Ashura, the Shiite holiday fell at the same time—far too much going on for anyone to concentrate.

I Fall for Afellay
June 09, 2010

I have a confession to make: I’m tired of this Spain-certainty. Yes: they do have an amazing team. Courageous when defending, brilliant when attacking, Spain is formidable. Their midfield by itself is a thing to behold. What on earth could be the result of having Barca wizards Iniesta and Xavi playing alongside Fabregas, their former Catalan accomplice, and Xabi Alonso, that confident brute? Only magic. So yes: Spain should win the cup. Which is exactly why I think… it won’t!

Anyone But Brazil
June 07, 2010

Hello everyone. It's nice to be back and thank you, Frank, for the invitation to join this merry throng once again. You ask: Who will win this thing? The sensible answer, I suppose, is to say that either Spain or Brazil will carry the trophy home. On paper they are comfortably the two most accomplished squads in the tournament. But, as the television pundits always remind us, soccer ain’t played on paper.  Nevertheless, should it be a Brazil-Spain final, I very much hope that Spain will prevail. I am, you see and I am afraid, bored of Brazil.

Barca Lounging
April 19, 2010

In the run-up to the first goal in the recent game between Real Madrid and Barcelona—known around the world as El Classico—Lionel Messi, currently the best player in the world by a long shot, was fouled and knocked down, only to get up quickly, receive the ball, and pass it on to Xavi, who returned it with a sublime chip over the hapless heads of Real’s defense—and while Raul Albiol* thrashed around as though about to speak in tongues trying to stop him, Messi scored with a shot that simultaneously looked clumsy and exactly perfect.