for those of you still interested in that “minor” sporting event going on “over there” in germany, let’s look at the tonight’s two quarterfinal matchups as i hope the symptoms of my two-day football withdrawal don’t get worse before kickoff tonight at 11:59.
germany v. argentina: from a neutral standpoint, this is, in my opinion, the glamour fixture of the quarterfinals. yes, my heartrate will be that of a dog’s after eating a box of chocolates when england play tomorrow night v. portugal; yes, there are more world cup titles, combined, on display in the brasil-france fixture–but that’s skewed because five of ‘em belong to the banana-clad, samba-dancing south americans; and, yes, outside the nation of italy, most neutrals will be pulling for ukraine to see off the panty-waisted thespians that are the azzurri. still, this opening quarterfinal is a dandy.
this wc2006 edition of the germans is not the germans we all grew up (except those of us who are german) cheering against because of their dull, boring, boorish style of play and on-pitch demeanour. in fact, this isn’t the same germany that, before the cup started, most germans were decrying as unfit to wear the famous kit because of their poor form in the months leading up to the competition.
they’ve played with flair, with gusto, with verve, with swerve (as evidenced by the phillip lahm and torsten frings goals against costa rica in their opening match) in their four impressive wins to get to this stage. however, it can be argued that these “impressive” wins have come against nowt competition: an overmatched costa rica, a poor poland, a second-string ecuador, and a ten-man and disappointing sweden.
whatever. regardless of the level of competition, just taking the german squad on its own merit, they’ve not been your usual german team. klose has been deadly in front of goal, as has podolski. ballack is rounding into stellar form after missing the opener to injury. the back line hasn’t allowed a goal since the opener to costa rica, though goalkeeper jens lehmann has yet to let in a howler and the further germany go, the more likely it will be to happen. add to this some of the youngsters on the bench whom coach jurgen klinsmann substitutes for an already young starting XI, and there is genuine reason for hope to win the cup now, as well as in four years down on the forgotten continent.
as for argentina, they’ve been classy for most of the tournament, though they weren’t always the definitely better side in the round of 16 clash with mexico. they’ve played the “beautiful game” well, beautifully, for large stretches of the tournament–and against competition that, save for serbinegro, wasn’t too shabby.
to most non-argentinian observers, midfielder juan roman riquelme has played outstanding football–but the grapevine vibrates from down patagonia way with grumblings that riquelme has been subpar. typical south american football aristrocracy: excellent footie isn’t enough; it has to be exquisite, effervescent, and as sharp as a stepmother’s tongue.
another gripe from the folks back home (there certainly don’t look to be any gripes amongst the mob of argentinian supporters in the stands who have enlivened every argentina match with their incessant dancing, singing, and general merrymaking), apparently, is that coach jose perkerman is not playing his youngsters enough, letting the likes of lionel messi, pablo aimar, and carlos tevez languish on the bench.
while it is true that neither of the three wonderkids has played too much, it’s because the starting XI isn’t all that shabby; perkerman’s is a luxury that any gaffer would gladly enjoy being criticised for having.
last year, germany and argentina saw each other twice, with each ending in a 2-2 draw. if we’re lucky, we’ll have another four goals scored, at least, as well as extra time to watch these two battle. extra football in such a glamourous quarterfinal match would be the least we fans deserve.
my take: germany’s path to this point has been as soft as downy fleece and it’s only a matter of time before disgruntled former number 1 goalkeeper oliver kahn’s bitterness at being replaced by the irritating lehmann begins to take its toll on team chemistry.
for the first time in the tournament, germany will be going against a side that has every bit the talent in midfield, and even more talent up front, than it does. the backlines of both sides have been exposed as being shaky at times–and very easily could (should) have been denuded even more with more expert finishing from opponents when there were chances.
in the end, though, i see a deeper argentinian side sending 80 million germans into a state of mourning as the south americans push through to the semifinals.
italy v. ukraine: not a very sexy matchup, unless you like prancing drama majors diving all over the pitch (okay, in all fairness, ukraine have no history of being silly corset-wearing pansies on the pitch, but the italian side have enough for two teams, if not more).
italy haven’t conceded a goal scored by an opponent yet (the one goal to blemish their “goals against” sheet was an own goal by cristian ziccardo against the u.s.) and have looked, aside from their opening match against ghana, as boring as italy usually look.
it’s a shame, really, with all their alleged attacking talent in midfield and upfront that they play such shit football, but it does produce results. that, and their aformentioned penchant for going to the ground at the slightest touch (or glance) from an opponent or opposing supporter.
unfortunately for us all, ukraine, while not diving like their quarterfinal opponents, have also played boring football while advancing to this stage. okay, their match against spain wasn’t so boring, but giving up four goals doesn’t boring football offset.
to their credit, though, the ukrainians have rebounded quite nicely from that opening debacle and sit a victory away from progressing further than any of the former soviet republics have done on the international footballing scene since the breakup of the communist entity a decade and a half ago.
both defenses are solid, and, under normal circumstances, the midfield and striking edge would seemingly go to italy; however, with injuries and suspensions haunting the italians (and giving them plenty to whinge about when they lose), the midfield battle becomes more of a tossup and ukraine might even edge the azzurri up front, on the simple talent of andriy shevchenko alone.
there is very little reason, however, to believe italy won’t slip past less-fancied ukraine; italy have the history, they’ve been on the big stage before, and they will grind opponents and fans alike to tears in order to hoist their 4th cup.
in the end, this matchup will not be decided conventionally; it will come down to this: the mediterranean sea (italy) v. the black sea (ukraine). and here are the key breakdowns of these two areas of contention:
- the med borders three continents; the black only crashes upon two. advantage: med
- the med is bigger, more famous, and shakes hands with the atlantic ocean; the black is landlocked, underappreciated, and shakes hands with the sea of azov. adv: med
- the med has a chain of upper-class, obnoxious, haughty resorts named after it; the black is a huge link in the chain of pipelines that funnel oil all over europe. adv: push
- the med is polluted by holiday merrymakers; the black still suffers from chernobyl. adv: push
- the med is hard to spell or pronounce; the black is linguistically pleasing. adv: black
- the med has sambuca and red wine; the black has vodka. adv: black
- the med has made-to-order mafia; the black has mail-order brides adv: black
- the med is home to, among others, italian football; the black isn’t. adv: black
well, there it is. it’s hard to argue with the numbers. the advantage for this fixture goes to the ruffians from the black sea. it’s not always about what happens on the pitch or at the stadium because, in a battle of aesthetically-displeasing footballing squads, one must throw out conventional footballing wisdom or analysis and look elsewhere for prescient inspiration.
victory to the ukrainians! vodka for everyone!