By Lord Castleton | | June 21, 2018 |
By Lord Castleton | | June 21, 2018 |
Futbol fans, welcome! I’m back in Boston after a wonderful, revitalizing sojourn in California and I’m ready to bob and weave with you through all the World Cup action that’s fit to print. Whether it’s crushing losses or unlikely victories, the World Cup has everything.
I love draws. Draws are funny. Draws really muck up the standings. In this swirling, vile, Trumpian dystopia, where #winning has become such a trigger word, draws are doubly curious. Americans of all stripes have a tenuous relationship with draws. We’re just not great at complexity, and in every arena of American life, things are boiled down to the simple, digestible tents of winners and losers. It’s how we’ve all been programmed for years and years.
But every issue — every issue — is complex. There is nuance and subtlety and real color to issues. And when Americans watch a draw, I like to think that we’re being schooled in the middle ground. In the consciousness of a collective whole. Because we’re faced with so much nauseating disgustingness on a daily basis, we sometimes overcorrect. And we’re so charged up that you can’t even point out the over-corrections lest you be labeled a cause traitor. It’s a polarized world and we on the left tend to brook no dissension. But I can point to many places where we need to check and recheck our positions, to make sure we’re in the right, to make sure that we’re not also losing sight of the bigger picture as we oppose not only this bigot goliath on his throne of stupidity, but more importantly those who look the other way as he denigrates Democratic ideals.
And so I love a good draw.
Draws make you think.
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Fox Sports anchor Kate Abdo (pictured above) for Pajiba 10, by the way. Early and often. She’s a delight. I don’t really understand what’s going on with her and Alexi Lalas. They clearly don’t like each other. I thought Lalas, based only on various hairstyles he had as a player, was basically the soccer equivalent of Blues Traveller. But it appears that he’s a little stiff or something?
It’s been a few days since my second update but I’ve watched every game and a lot has happened. Let’s take it group by group. Climb up the ladder with me! Walk to the slide and let’s goooooooooooooooo!
Well shoooooooooot. I’ve tried to this point to avoid bringing the ubiquitous ugliness of FIFA into the discussion, and I’ll only break that rule to wonder aloud about how Russia, a team that sucks by any broad definition, will definitely move on to the knockout stage as one of the highest scoring teams (the highest scoring as of this morning) in the world. We could wonder about the weak division, I suppose. But Saudi Arabia laid down, and then we watched a re-Salahed Egypt somehow get crushed. By Russia. I was watching Russia vs Egypt thinking:
“Putin couldn’t buy the whole Egyptian team, right? Like, that’s not possible.”
I’m sure that’s impossible. But watching that game, were the Egyptians just that slow? Were they truly that late to react to Russian players, for example, just walking in to have a high percentage tally at their goal from the 16.5 meter line? Is Egypt just that abysmal at soccer? Because even the penalty that led to Salah’s goal looked iffy as hell to me. Oh Egypt! Ancient land of the Sphinx! Fabled bosom of the Nile! Wherefore dost thou blow ass so much?
Maybe the Russians are just that good at futbol now, magically, as they host the World Cup. That’s cool.
But there’s not a team I’m rooting against harder than Russia.
It might have been Egypt and Uruguay advancing out of Group A, but through the grace of the soccer gods and possibly some velvet bags full of rubles, it’s going to be Russia and Uruguay. What does it say about Uruguay that they could only beat a Mo Salah-less Egypt by one score? I can’t stand Luis Suarez either, so Group A makes me want a shower any way you cut it. This division is full of A-holes.
Ahhh. I needed a palate cleanser. Blech.
It was always going to be Portugal and Spain coming out of the B-hole. Er…you know what I mean. Portugal is like all Ronaldo all the time, and hopefully, the supporting cast is enough. Spain looks exciting and professionally undressed Iran yesterday, though 1 to nil doesn’t really bolster confidence. I’ve gotten unnecessarily racy with sexual innuendo in this group. Is it the sheer size of Ronaldo’s Adam’s apple? Is it the handsomeness of Spain’s national team? I don’t know.
Incidentally, you know who the unintended winner of the world cup is already?
I mean, what’s with the hair, yo?
Why does every player look like they just waltzed out of a salon? The hair game is stupidly on point! And maybe in not a good way. Guys have fades and fuckbois and slick jobs and crazy designs shaved in and like half moons dyed into their hair. There’s not a shaggy player in the whole tournament. I mean some of the Russians look like a ballsack, but I figured that was just the residual effect of the ugly kits. I do not understand the evolution of the hairdo in international competition, but that just may be the hockey player in me. Most hockey players still wear pleated pants for chrissake. Maybe we could use a few new do’s.
Check out these sick ass looks:
Here’s Brazil’s Neymar:
Senegal’s Sadio Mane has his trademark racing stripe:
Iran’s Ramin Rezaeian has the fade bouffant
But most players seem to be doing some version of this, styled and gelled with adamantium mousse that never moves during play, like Germany’s Tony Kroos.
I really love group C. I always claim that I’m an Anglophile, because I love when the trains run on time, but Lady C maintains that I’m just a closet Francophile. I have to admit that I was excited to see Team France in this tournament, especially considering what a front line of Kylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud, and Antoine Griezmann might be capable of. But coming out of the gate they seemed a bit…messy. In the France vs Australia match (which France won 2-1), I came out of it with a new respect for the Socceroos. They played strong. That’s something I wonder about. Why isn’t there a team that just plays strong all the time? Like, a team that runs through every ball, and never flops and has a team identity that’s like Rugby strong? So they’d intimidate you because you know they’re not going to give you an inch. And I’m not saying that they’d play dirty, just that they contest everything and use their bodies properly, with discipline and form. I feel like I saw lesser versions of this from three teams in the opening round: Australia, Iceland, and the Danes. And maybe Sweden a little.
That said, we’ve had a number of penalty kicks in the opening round, but none was as much ‘with authority’ as France’s Antoine Greizmann.
KABLAM! That’s how you strike it. Damn, son!
There was a hell of a match this morning between the Danes and the Aussies, two teams I really like. I was watching it as I topped off this article, and they fought to a draw. I like that. I like both of these teams and I can’t choose between them, so hopefully they’ll figure it out for me.
As of a few minutes ago, France has moved on, with a win over Peru today, 1-0.
This is a really interesting division, and it hasn’t at all gone the way I thought it would. There have been some real shite teams getting pantsed on the world stage (cough cough Saudi Arabia) but I NEVER expected Nigeria’s Supereagles to be one of them. My god, what an atrocious match. Nigeria never showed up. They looked stuck in the mud all day and displayed zero playmaking speed at the striker position. Croatia owned them.
Argentina dogged its way to a draw with Iceland. Lionel Messi has the sweetest feet you’ll ever see, but he’s haunted by the reputation that he can’t rise to the occasion in big games. Unfortunately for Argentina, it felt like that in the match against the upstart Vikings, where Messi worked to create space all day only to miss by inches. On top of that, he had a penalty shot saved.
Not that he missed, but that Icelandic goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson actually guessed correctly and denied him. That’s all you can do as a goalie is just jump one way or stay put. You’re not allowed to move until the ball is kicked, but that favors the shooter in a big way, because these guys are so good and so accurate that by the time they hit it, it’s over. You don’t really have time to react. So you flail and make yourself as big as you can in one direction or the other and you hope for Lionel Messi to shoot it at your hands.
And he does.
If you listen to that clip, you hear them say that Argentina has more registered soccer players than Iceland has citizens. That’s staggering.
We’re going to know a lot more about this division after Argentina vs Croatia today and Nigeria vs Iceland tomorrow. But if you don’t have a small place in your heart for Iceland, you’re a grinch.
I never thought I’d say it, but Serbia opened this tournament with a team that shows some real playmaking grit. Now, Costa Rica didn’t put up much of a fight per se, but you really have to like the creativity of the Serbian side. They had multiple chances to score, but some key saves by Costa Rican goalkeeper and Real Madrid superstar Keylor Navas kept Costa Rica in it. But even a standout like Navas couldn’t stop this absolute bent howitzer shot by Serb captain Aleksandar Kolarov.
You can’t hit a shot better than that. I don’t care who you are. If Pele and Maradona had a baby it couldn’t shoot it better than that. It’s perfect. Perfect.
Still a lot undecided in this group. Right now I’m still certain about Brazil and optimistic about Switzerland, but Serbia is definitely making a case.
Group F is the toughest one in the whole tournament and it’s devastating that one very good team is going to get knocked out before the knockout. I like South Korea and you get the sense that their national program is really improving, but they probably don’t have the horses to compete with the thunderclaps in this division. Because, my god. Germany! Sweden! And now…Mexico!
We talk here in Massachusetts about the shot heard ‘round the world that started the American revolution in 1775, but the shot heard round the world in this year’s World Cup was off the foot of Mexico striker Hirving Lozano.
The instant reactions of millions of Mexicans jumping at the same time produced what some people thought was a seismic anomaly. But there was nothing anomalous about Mexico’s win. They absolutely deserved to win it, and honestly, it could have been 3-0 or 4-0 based on all the charges they made. To my eye, there is no hungrier team in the current cup draw than Mexico. That offense attacked like a swarming hive of bees. They pierced and confused the normally staunch German defensive side and created scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity. Defending champions Germany looked outmatched.
And based on the tough defense of Sweden? Germans have cause to be truly worried about dropping that opener. I was in Los Angeles, which has a huge Mexican population, and you could step outside your house and hear car horns blaring for an hour after that big win. It was exciting. If you’re an American with no one to root for and haven’t picked your team yet, you could do a lot worse than our southern neighbor. That team looks primed to kick some folks in the unmentionables. My god, they’re on fire. I hope they keep it up. If they can pile on a good scoring differential against South Korea on Saturday, Mexico is going to make it tough for them to be caught. But if they have a let down and lose a shocker to South Korea, Germany is right back in it.
There may be no bigger match this upcoming weekend than Germany vs Sweden on Saturday.
Romelu Lukaku looked like a man among boys in his World Cup debut, scoring two goals versus Tunisia, but all you heard about was how his captain and fellow Belgian Eden Hazard kind of called him out, saying he vanished in the first half. I don’t know a whole lot about Lukaku, except that I like his beard.
So I tried to read up on him a bit. I read his personal story in The Players Tribune, where players tell their story in their own voices. I know he’s a striker for Man U after stops in Chelsea and Everton. I feel like he’s either arrogant or misunderstood. Or possibly both. Commenters can fill me in below, but any time a guy is in the running for the Golden Boot and the news you hear is either negative or critical, I start to wonder if there’s a racial component in the mix. Because to my eye, Lukaku is a game changer. And that Belgian team is a contender to go the distance.
But there’s another real contender in their own group. Despite letting fans down at a pretty regular pace, this England team is stacked. Harry Kane converted the brace in the opener versus Tunisia and he made it look fairly easy. Still, like the French, I thought the English side looked like it had some nerves at play. When these teams settle into it they’re going to be nasty.
It’s always been the Brits and the Belgians coming out of the G and nothing I’ve seen so far is primed to change that.
Rounding out the groups, H is a real clusterfuck.
Japan vs. Colombia is hard to judge because three minutes into the game, due to an intentional hand ball in the box, Colombia was forced to play with a man down for the entire match. (For non-soccer types - because the penalty was deemed egregious enough, the player received a red card, which features an instant ejection from the game).
Even playing a man down, honestly, Colombia looked like the more dangerous team. And yet they fall to Japan 2-1.
European teams (sans Deutschland) have mostly steamrolled everyone in the opening round of play, but it’s like the South American teams all have jet lag or something. I don’t know what’s going on there.
I’ll be interested to see if Japan can keep up the level of intensity. They’ve got themselves into a good spot at the get-go.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the group, another upset, with Senegal getting the better of Poland. I felt like I was watching a disaster movie. At every turn, Poland either screwed themselves or was screwed by the hand of fate. Senegal didn’t really even need Liverpool’s Sadio Mane to get the better of the cursed Poles. Much of the first half was a yawnfest, with neither team really establishing a decent presence. Then at the 37th minute, a quirky deflection off the foot of his own defender sent the pineapple spinning into the string cloud. You think Juventus’ Polish goalie got boned? His name is Wojciech Szczesny. Is that four consonants in a row? You betcha! They did a whole SNL sketch on names like that.
In the second half, Senegal pulled out to a 2-0 lead when a dubiously timed substitution (all within the rules) led to M’Baye Niang surging to intercept a Polska backpass and touch it home. I can’t be certain that watching that made some people spontaneously fall over and die in Poland, but I’m sure it did. My heart stopped for a few seconds watching it.
It was the most booooolshit play of the tourney so far, but it sometimes goes that way. That was some ugly-ass officiating.
Poland halved the lead on a nice header with a few minutes to go, but it was all for naught. With that devastating L, it looks like the players might be at home playing with their kielbasa sooner than they had hoped. Nice to see an African team emerge from the opening games with a win, even if it came at the expense of the homeland of my maternal grandmother.
And with that, we already have some teams in the knockout and some headed home in defeat. Thanks for hanging out with us for World Cup updates. We’ve had some good matches but there’s much, much better soccer ahead as we shuck the chaff and get down to bidness. Join me as we go forward to watch Russia finally get shellacked by a real side and let me know what team you think I should root for. I have a few crushes, but I haven’t proposed to anyone yet.