Greetings to all wonderful Pajibans: greetings futbol fans! Greetings to people who crave needlessly luxurious prose, and greetings to the sad sacks whom I convinced to shitcan the NFL this season. If you’re in the last category, I know what you’re thinking: “Is there a world where a bunch of coiffed dudes with tribal tats and softball calves doffing around an inflated beanbag can replace the Doc Holiday wild-west hot-potato violent shootout glory that is the art of Murican professional football???”
I mean, in soccer you’ve got a bunch of glass men who buckle and flail when they’re impacted by vicious things like ladybugs and dandelion puffs. It took me a few minutes to remember how much I disliked the diving part of the sport, made worse by the fact that when I used to play, I drew penalties with Tony-winning dives just like that. A guy would brush past me and I’d flop like I just ingested ricin. Ugh. I’m not proud about the faker I was. But fake rekonize fake and man: some of these pratt falls these players do? It’s weaksauce squared. It’s a malady on the game. Papa no like.
That said, as day two opened, I was ready to wash away the junior varsity quality of the opening match with some real futbol. Futbol like your supposed to bol.
Egypt vs Uruguay
I’m in Los Angeles for the week and that meant getting up at 5am to watch Egypt vs Uruguay. I was anxiously hoping to get word that international soccer sensation Mo Salah would be on the pitch for the start of the match, but his injured left shoulder kept him riding the pine.
That was a bummer. Especially for an Egyptian team that hasn’t been a qualifier in almost thirty years.
Right away, the action was significant upgrade over the previous day. Uruguay was the more talented team, and consistently made scoring chances happen, but they were routinely turned away by outstanding play from Egyptian keeper Mohamed El-Shenawy. I can’t overstate what a beast this goalie was. He faced down Uruguayan international pit vipers Luis Suarez (Barcelona) and Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain) and got the better of them over and over again. And it wasn’t just position play. It was quick-twitch reactions and hyper-awareness. I was so impressed.
That’s why it was doubly difficult to watch as a nil-nil game finally had the ice broken with less than a minute to play (for you non-soccer folk — the teams play two 45 minute halves, so 90 minutes total. Then there are a few minutes of ‘extra time’ to make up for various stoppages of play for things like injuries. The deciding goal came in the 89th minute).
Urugauy takes the match, despite truly disciplined and impressive play by the Egyptians. That’s a program that feels like it’s come a long way in a short amount of time, and had they been able to field a superstar like Salah, who knows how that one may have turned out.
That one ended 1-0 Uruguay over Egypt.
Morocco vs Iran
This game was certainly better than Russia vs KSA but man was it boring. It was billed as a defensive battle and it lived up to that billing going 90 minutes without a goal. In the NFL, a defensive battle can be thrilling. In mediocre soccer? It’s rough. I kept trying to stay engaged and my mind kept wondering about what was going on on The Expanse the other night. Oh James Holden, you fulcrum of interstellar notoriety! What was flickering projected ghost Miller saying again? Oh shit, I’m supposed to be watching this game! Aaaaaaand there’s a throw in. Kill me.
This puppy could have peed in either kitchen, but in the end, a poor Moroccan defender who will now need a lifetime of therapy scored on his own goal while trying to clear a cross from Iran. Just headed it into the netherworld of his own net. My god. Maybe it was the sweat on his buzz-cutted head. Maybe the ball had a little unseen English on it. Who knows? But Iran catches a break in extra time and struts away with the gift of the century, providing what I’m guessing will be ample proof of God’s will for theocrats east of the Tigris and Euphrates.
Iran escapes 1-0 over Morocco.
I wish I could make the screen flash with sparklers right now because after these two contests we were given the top ten matchup of Portugal vs Spain.
Portugal vs Spain
Dear god, what a game.
I came in rooting for Espagne, but inside of four minutes, Portuguese demigod Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) was already on the board. The very first time he touched the ball he gets shivved inside the 18 and he’s lining up for a penalty kick. As the Spain goalie, superstar David de Gea (Manchester United) guesses left, Ronaldo buries the turtle into the panel right. Ho hum. 1-0 Portugal.
Twenty minutes later, Spain’s Diego Costa (Atlético Madrid) shrugs off some nettles on an incoming hospital pass and ties it up 1-1.
Ronaldo strikes again a minute before the half, cranking a shot low that somehow the skilled de Gea isn’t able to corral and with that soft goal the Portugal side is up again, 2-1 on the foot of their legend.
This is where lots of teams would get psyched out. This is where lots of teams wouldn’t have an answer against the defending European champions. This is where lots of teams would start to overthink and lose the mental game.
But not Spain.
Spain stays strong, creating and controlling. Their game is skilled, and shows no signs of erratic play, despite having their manager replaced two days ago. They fight back and even up the match with another right-place-right-time goal from Costa at the 55 minute mark.
Three minutes later it’s sheer beauty.
Spain is trying to create on the left edge of Portugal’s defensive zone. It’s a lit of crisp little stuff but it’s being contested in close quarters by the Portugal defenders and the ball is bouncing a little. On a toed-cross the ball takes a weird, spinny hop and sings away across the field where Spanish player Nacho Fernandez comes caterwauling in, gauges the dreidel-spin on the melon and fucking tattoos this pill mach 4 into the far post for the go ahead goal.
I can’t explain how hard this is. It’s fucking unreal. To come in full speed and sideleg that, with touch and pace, curling it back goalward? I was YELLING. Yelling. I played it on a loop for Lady C who couldn’t give a single solitary fuck about it, but humored me anyway.
Goddamn, that’s why they play these games. God. Damn.
From there it was Spain’s game to hold on to. They were going to win. It was as simple as that. Ronaldo, who didn’t seem at all bothered by the multimillion dollar tax evasion decision that went against him like five days ago, was a virtual ghost in the second half. Portugal looked drained and beaten.
And then, a chance.
A foolish, unnecessary penalty right outside the box gave Ronaldo one last free kick to even it up. But he already had two goals. I mean, come on. He’s not going to nail a hat trick with four minutes to go.
Except that he does.
Holy jesus. He bends a shot expertly over and around the corner of the wall and it sails untouched into the net for a third goal. That ties him for the most international goals ever scored by a European born man. I mean, holy fuck. Talk about clutch.
The game ends in a 3-3 tie, in a game that will feel like a huge loss to Spain and a huge win for Portugal.
Somebody get me a defibrillator, stat. That’s good futbol. That’s damn good futbol. And while it may never quite fill that pigskin-shaped hole for many of us, it’s still wonderful to see that kind of skill and determination in any sport.