The World's Blog: Day 11

Portugal has scorers not named Ronaldo? Swiss plays with holes, and Spain discovers a New World Cup. The World Cup blog heads into a decisive 11th day.

Portugal 7, Korea DPR 0

The soccer pitch is neutral ground. No war, no nuclear power, no intimidation. Today Portugal put this theory to test, taking down an international bully with no threat of retribution. Today, Portugal took North Korea’s nuclear threats out of the headlines and replaced it with North Korea’s embarrassing defeat.

A mirror image of the Brazil game for the North Koreans in the first 28 minutes, possession and chances were dead even. In the 29’ everything changed for Portugal. Raul Miereles broke Portugal’s World Cup goal drought with a great pass to the back of the net under the North Korean goalkeeper’s outstretched arms. The rest of the half ended uneventfully

Portugal left the tunnel after the halftime break lead by Captain Cristiano Ronaldo, who compared goal scoring to ketchup, “When you keep forcing it, it all comes at once”. This prophecy was fulfilled during the clinical second half. The first goal of the second half was scored by Simao in the 53’. This was followed up by goals from Almeida(55’), Tiago(60’) and Liedson(81’). In the 87’ Ronaldo opened up his own ketchup bottle with a goal, worthy of its own Youtube video, off his back, then his head, then bouncing beautifully to his feet, which he then placed gently to the back of the net. Portugal’s decisive game was capped by a goal in the 89’ by Deco’s replacement Tiago.  With this 7-nil win Portugal all but assures themselves a place in the Round of 16.

All eyes will be on the final Group G game of Portugal VS. Brazil at 7:00 AM PST. If Portugal can produce the same way against Brazil, a win would hand Portugal their first place ticket in the group stage, a tie would still allow them to move on.

Who really wakes up at 4:30 in the morning every day?  Well I only know one person that did that; even after retiring several years ago, my father-in-law would still wake up every morning by 4:30.  Last night when I set my alarm for 4:25, I thought, if I was only Bob Webel I wouldn’t have to even set an alarm.  But alas I am just a normal human being and even though I am a fanatic football fan, 4:30 is brutally early.  I have relied on my DVR to get me though the first week and a half of this tournament, but not this morning.  This morning I am not home, instead I am in a hotel as I have had to travel to Arizona to pay my last respects to the one man that would have been up to watch this match without the need for an alarm or a DVR.

As my wife and daughter slept, I turned on the match with the hope that the North Koreans could help me forget the passing of a good friend. Now my father-in-law was not a big fan of the beautiful game, but he did take an interest in anything sports related; and if he was still with us this morning, he would be asking all sorts of questions what each team should do, and do I think they will do them.  So as the game started, I began going over my keys to what North Korean needed to do to win.  After watching them holding the Brazilians scoreless for over a half, I felt that if we could do the same today, the Portuguese would melt down and the door for an upset would be opened.

As we know, that door slammed all the way shut early in the first half and ended with the North Koreans officially knocked out of this tournament with a disappointing 7-0 loss.  Despite the loss, I still found some comfort in watching the game; like most that will read this, I simply love the game and not just the games that my teams are in, but all the games.  Having a family and responsibilities means that I don’t have the ability to watch every match that I want to, nor are there games on when I have the opportunity to watch, so getting to do so this morning, when I could really use a boost, well must be like what the North Koreans felt about being in the tournament… a blessing.  They may be officially out of the tournament, but no one can take away from them the fact they represented their country in the biggest sporting event in the world and helped me feel a little better.


Chile 1, Switzerland 0

Every once in a while the world is treated to a rare, beautiful moment when a player with so much promise finally begins to shine on the biggest stage.  I remember the exact moment I became enamored with Lionel Messi and I’m getting a bit of déjà vu watching Alexis Sanchez in this tournament.  Not to say that Alexis Sanchez is the next Messi, but we are witness to the emergence of a great talent after so many had labeled him the next big thing at age 15.  Despite Chile needing a result today and the stress that entails, I was able to sit back for a bit and just enjoy El Niño Maravillo’s (the wonder kid's) beautiful play.  He was unfortunate to have his goal disallowed and seemed to run out of steam in the last 20 minutes, but before that he put on a dazzling display running at defenders and beautiful control with his chest, feet, you name it. 

The game itself got off to a chippy, nervy start before Chile settled in and took control.  A soft and unfortunate red card all but doomed Switzerland to sitting back and hoping for the draw.  Chile created loads of chances but failed to finish (sound familiar Sounders fans?).  Marcelo Bielsa showed why he is possibly the best coach at the World Cup with clever second half subs that proved the difference as Esteban Paredes and Mark Gonzalez combined for the winner.  Chile will be kicking itself for not putting in more chances against both Honduras and Switzerland as the group could end with 3 teams tied with 6 points and goal differential being the decider. 

The final game against Spain should be fantastic as Spain will almost certainly need all 3 points to go through, while Chile will need a point to avoid the tie-breaker.  Chile will be without Mati Fernandez and Carlos Carmona through suspension.  While Mati has been a creative spark for Chile, Valdivia can slot into that spot quite comfortably.  With the introduction of Esteban Paredes today, Valdivia moved into Mati’s spot behind the front line and the offense didn't miss a beat.  Carlos Carmona will be more of a worry to replace.  Rodrigo Millar, the most similar replacement, had a sub-par first half against Honduras before being subbed off and Spain will provide stiffer competition.  No doubt, though, that El Loco Bielsa has something in mind – in his beautiful, crazy mind.

A soccer match is similar to life, it’s long and full of moments. Most moments are uneventful, not recorded or remembered. Teams will pass it around, boot long balls and make poor passes all game. The moments that define a match or our lives are those big defining moments. Those are the ones remembered and recorded. These moments impact soccer matches, these are the ones remembered by fans and talked about for hours, days and years.

The Swiss came in after their big upset of Spain in a good position. They came out looking to tie and not really trying to score. I could go on for hours about how their tactic might be effective, but it is not the most fun to watch. I could go on for hours more talking about poor officiating. Why is it that these referees need to have 100% control of every match? Maybe if we let the boys play more? Less of these defining moments would be referee moments and more would be player moments.

I could talk about red cards and how in one moment a player and a ref can decide an entire match. Did Valon Behrami need to have his arms that high? Probably not, but did but was it enough to be red carded and hand Chile the game, absolutely not. A defining moment turned into a disgraced moment. A dive by Chilean winger Arturo Vidal rewarded by the referee Khalil Al Ghamdi. To go a man down is bad, but for a nonattacking Switzerland, it seemed impossible.

I could talk a few more hours about Chilean players flopping all over the pitch. Finally in the 92nd minute a Chilean defender was punished for diving, ten seconds later the final whistle blew, too little way too late. I guess to give them credit, you must do what it takes to win and if the referee keeps calling it, keep falling. Those moments won’t be recorded or probably not remembered but they sure were frustrating as a Swiss fan. It is safe to say Arturo Vidal is a hated man in the landlocked alpine county of Switzerland tonight.

I could also talk for hours about the Chilean attack, it was never ending. It all starts with the coach and his 3-3-1-3 formation. They dominated the game, 19 shots, 6 on target and 69% possession. Most importantly they got a goal off a Switzerland team  that set a World Cup record a minute earlier by going 551 minutes without giving up a World cup goal. A defining moment never forgotten for Mark Gonzalez born in nearby Durban, South Africa. His header off a nice cross from Estaban Paredes gave Chile the lead and it seemed that Switzerland had no offense to make a come back.

All of this to say some defining moments are remembered forever. The match 90 minutes and for 89 and half minutes the Swiss could muster only a few weak shots wide. For a 2nd half the ball was barely in their offense end. With Swiss Left back Reto Ziegler finding Left midfielder Albert Bunjaku in the box in the 90th minute, hope was coming back to the Swiss side. No one was breathing in Switzerland as time stood still for a moment. Ziegler with a beautiful back heal to 22 year old Swiss striker Eren Derdiyok. The Basel Born youngster has options and from 13 yards out he side foots it to the right corner. Switzerland’s bench stands almost in celebration, he can’t miss can he?  As the ball rolls wide, the team stands in amazement. They will all remember that moment, they would have all remembered it if it had gone in. That shot maybe the difference of moving on to the next round or not.

To Switzerland that was a defining moment to the World Cup. To Derdiyok it is a defining moment to his life, so close to being a hero and now he is just left with a memory. He will think of it in the locker room, at dinner tonight, lunch tomorrow, training tomorrow and the next day. It will haunt him in his sleep and while awake. Give him that shot again and he makes it, he probably makes it 10 more times, all he had to do was put it in. Now the task is clear, win Friday and hope the numbers fall where the may. I can talk for hours about different scenarios group H, but lets throw that aside. Lets hope for a Swiss win and lets hope the game is on the line the ball is on Derdiyok’s boot, where his new defining moment is a game winner and the Swiss moving on. 

Spain 2, Honduras 0

The only thing worse than a Spain loss is getting to a soccer bar to watch a game and having it closed due to electical issues, but with a trusted recommendation in hand I made it to another local soccer bar just in time to see kick off.

Stunned to walk into an empty bar, the kind and enthusiastic bar tender let me know it would get busier as lunchtime approached.

With eventually a small crowd on hand that seemed to mostly favor the favorites Spain, the world (& the bar I was in) finally got to see Spain play SPANISH FUTBOL.

The first half could have come w/a beer shared w/Spain's defense, they saw so little action, a good thing.

We'll just call this game the "robbed hat trick"; whether it was bad karma on a PK due to overacting on the foul or as Sounder's T. Graham put it the "tapas-sized" (smaller-portioned) Spanish player missing a header, it was the hat trick that wouldn't be.

Being a girl I won't even comment on what happened to poor Pique, but as a girl I will speak for us all by saying "could we have a few more close-ups please?!?"

Brazil 3, Ivory Coast 1. Yes, the official scoreboard might point out that the Elephants allowed three balls into their net, and that Brazil were their opponents. But don’t let that deceive you. While the team in yellow had about 15 total minutes of lovely attacking football, for the remaining 75 they seemed content to sit back, control, and embellish fouls. Plus Luis Fabiano pulled an Henry on Brazil’s second goal.

To be fair, the other two goals were gorgeous and legitimate. And the Ivorian attack was out of sync and not particularly threatening, aside from one moment when Brazil somehow conspired to not mark the best striker in the world. Drogba probably hasn’t been that open since U-18 ball.

During the broadcast ESPN commentator Efan Ekoku said Ivory Coast weren’t trying to attack. Of course, Efan Ekoku is wrong about everything, ever. They were trying. Brazil just happens to be really really good.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the game was the end, when the Ivorians became chippy, hard fouls started flying, and Kaka was sent off. Officially he received a second yellow for elbowing Kader Keita in the chest. (Although Keita must have been confused, because he thought his face had been irreparably damaged.) But since there wasn’t much of a foul, I’m going with Kaka was sent off for being annoying.

Still, Ivory Coast were outclassed and they deserved the loss. Now they’ll need serious help to have a chance to advance. But in this crazy World Cup, who knows. North Korea could beat them by three.