Thursday, July 06, 2006

spinachdip's guide to the 2006 World Cup: Blue on blue crime (with nudity!)

(Yes, there's a link to nudity in this post. If you're here just for the pictures, you should skip on down to the end of the post)

I didn't want to mention this so close to your independence day, but let us now praise Takeru Kobayashi for, once again, proving that Japan is the greatest nation in the world. Infidel Joey Chestnut of the Great Satan America put in a commendable effort, but it always seemed like whatever Chestnut could do, Kobayashi could do better and with ease. You want Kobayashi to make history? Just ask, and he'll do it.

But who knew that an even more epic performance was to come on Fourth of July? And I say this now with tongue completely removed from cheek - Tuesday's Italy vs Germany (highlights) was one of the greatest sporting events of this millenium thus far. I'm serious. I'm trying to think of a game that comes close. You can point to the Red Sox's comeback against the Yankees from 0-3 down or Liverpool's comeback against A.C. Milan from, again, 0-3 down, but both required a healthy amount of choking from the opponent, and after a certain point, there was an air of inevitability.

Not so with the World Cup semifinal. We saw two quality teams with contrasting styles but no shortage of motivation and energy, going back and forth, attacking the goal and defending with aplomb, with almost every player at at least their B+ game. Well, except Italian forward Luca Toni, who spent most of his time either on the ground or crying for fouls imagined (most of the time) and real (occasionally). We at Mr. Dennehy's got around to calling him "LU-ca TO-ni!" for his constant protestations that came complete with the quintessential Italian hand gesturing. As our friend Mark said, "Live the stereotype, Luca."

Though once you got past the Italian propensity to collapse at any hint of contact and the overall greasiness, it was a classic match. If we ever needed any proof that a scoreless match can be exciting (I don't - I prefer to watch the action on the field, not the scoreboard) the former Axis powers brought it. But just as the two teams looked ready to take the match to dreaded penalty kicks, midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo somehow found Fabio Grosso (you Australian kids might have heard of him) in a clearing inside the forest of German trees, and blasted a curling shot juuuust out of goalie Jens Lehman's reach and juuuuuust inside the far post. Bra-fucking-vo. Minutes later, the legendary Alex Del Piero took another beautiful pass and sealed the deal. 2-0 Italy. Auf wiedersehn, Mannschaft.

Earlier, I had wished schadenfreude upon Deutschland, but I just didn't have the heart. Instead, I felt only schaden for Jurgen Klinsmann' men and freude was reserved for the 120+ minutes of drama I had just watched.

LUUUU-ca TOOOOOO-ni doing what Italins do best.

But of course, now that the divingest, greasiest team on the planet was in the final, it was now imperative that France defeat another team of divers, Portugal. A Portugal vs Italy final would, at best, set humanity back 30 years and unleash all sorts of evil demons into the world. Alas, France vs Portugal lacked even a fraction of the excitement Italy vs Germany provided, to the point that I fell asleep before half time after France took the 1-0 lead (thanks to an Italy-like embellished fall by Thierry Henry, ironically), woke up to witness Fabian Barthez almost screw it up in the 77th minute, and then fell back asleep.

So what to make of the final? Well, for one, you must root for Les Bleus against the blue shirted men of Italy. As good soccer as Azzurri have played, they simply must be punished for their diving, whining ways. They must. It's easy to hate Italy, with its cynical style and woe-is-me attitude, but the team induces begrudging respect with their uncanny ability to find ways to win. Utterly infuriating. But when Italy does lose, it tends to happen in the most public and tragic fashion, making it all the more satisfying. And what bigger stage than the World Cup final against the one, the only, the outgoing legend, Zinedine Zidane?

So here's what you should watch out for on Sunday (3 pm ET ABC/Univision):

Eric Wynalda's utter contempt for everyone other than Eric Wynalda, especially studio-mates Brent Musburger and Julie Foudy: This is about the only thing that makes the Disney networks' coverage of Weltmeisterschaft worth watching (though I've grown fond of the Spanish Budweiser commercials on Univision). Wynalda is a complete asshole, and television need more people like him. Pairing him with the "let's try to find the weakest American sport analogy possible" Musburger and Foudy, the master of the obvious (and an owner of a vajayjay), is genius. Of course, Waldo should be careful lest he mess with Loudy Foudy too much.

Attack: Italy boasts the talented and annoying Totti, the tall and annoying Luuuuuuca Tooooooooni, and the fast and annoying Camoranesi. France has Thierry Henry, who thus far has shown up just three times in the tournament - the dive to set up the winning goal against Spain, once, collecting Zidane's perfect free kick against Brazil, and the embellished foul against Portugal. Still, it hasn't mattered as much because Captain Zizou and his deputy Franck Ribery have been on their game.

Midfield: This is where games are won. Well, other than the whole scoring thing. Italy has Gennaro Gattuso, who's rugged in a very un-Italian way, and Andrea Pirlo dictating the game, while the African-born duo of Claude Makelele and Patrick Vieira do the same for France. Whoever controls the middle third of the pitch wins the game. Or doesn't lose until penalty kicks, at least.

Defense: Cannavaro is, in my mind, the player of the tournament so far - he has not looked vulnerable for a single moment. The bad news is, he's paired in defense with Marco Materazzi, who looks a little like Michael Richards in UHF, but isn't nearly as graceful. Still, Italy has conceded just one goal the entire tournament, and that one goal was an own goal against the United States (USA! USA!), while side backs Grosso and Zambrotta are active on the attack.

The French defense is just as solid, with Lilian Thuram, one of my favorite players, ever (via 116street Soccer) anchoring while Sagnol and Abidal attack on the flanks.

Goalkeepers and their significant others: Italy's Gianluigi Buffon has been solid as a rock while Fabian Barthez has continued to create excitement out of seemingly simple stops. So the advantage should go to Italy. But what about their wives, you ask? Good question. Buffon's wife Alena Seredova looks like this and this (NSFW). Not bad. But Barthez's wife is Linda Evangelista. See, all you have to do to land a supermodel girlfriend is to be a balding goalkeeper with a tendency to make shocking mistakes at inopportune times.

Oh, wait: There's the third place match on Saturday. But really, who cares?

And finally: Shakira.

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