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World Cup, 6/24

Hey everyone. The knock-out rounds have begun, so that means I'm again watching television. This is not good for my health, obviously, though faithful readers know I'm not exactly mobile these days. Right ankle is in a cast. It throbs periodically, and will sting with every 10th step. I prefer to sit still.

Cheesecake hounds will be happy. The back shot looks salacious, but it was ON THE AP WIRE this morning, meaning it's fair game for this blog. Hey, I'm not arguing.
Germany def. Sweden, 2-0: Oh, this didn't go well for the Swedes. Gave up two early goals to Podolski, both set up by Klose passes or shots, and now are down to 10 men because Lucic drew two amarillos. Germany has been very aggressive so far as it has paid off with four wins in four matches. Argentina is next. We'll then see what Lehmann, the German keeper, truly can accomplish. He hasn't yet been tested.

Argentina def. Mexico, 2-1 (in extra time): Each team scored a goal during the first 15 minutes or so, then it came down to Maxi Rodriguez's extra-time goal. Mexico played very well, and looked very improved with striker Jared Borgetti back in the lineup. Rodriguez's goal -- he chested a ball down to his foot and one-timed it high and over the Mexican keeper -- was my favorite solo goal of the tournament. What a finish!

Argentina v. Germany, 10 a.m. Friday (ESPN)

You think she's a major GER supporter now ...
(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Her pre-match concerns were justified.
(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Knock-out round matchups

Hey everyone. Here's a gander at the second-round fixtures.

Germany v. Sweden, 10 a.m. (ABC)
Argentina v. Mexico, 2 p.m. (ESPN)

SUNDAY, 6/25
England v. Ecuador, 10 a.m. (ABC)
Portugal v. Netherlands, 2 p.m. (ESPN)

MONDAY, 6/26
Italy v. Australia, 10 a.m. (ESPN)
Switzerland v. Ukraine, 2 p.m. (ESPN)

Brasil v. Ghana, 10 a.m. (ESPN)
Spain v. France, 2 p.m. (ESPN)

**Quarterfinal round begins on Friday, 6/30.

World Cup, 6/23

Hey everyone. This is the last day of pool play, so it's not a completely happy day. That means the tournament is beginning to slow down. I love the early-tournament optimism that helps dreadful teams like Togo and the US think they are relevant on the world stage.

I'm looking forward to the Korea-Switzerland match this afternoon. We have a new Hyundai plant here, a really big one, and we've made some new Korean friends during thr past few months. They're really stoked about the match. So am I.
*Spain def. Saudia Arabia, 1-0: Spain played its reserves today. Second-worst match I've seen at the World Cup -- behind that ARG-NED quagmire from a few days back. I hope these ambivalent American viewers didn't tune into this match for a glimpse at the soccer hubbub. They won't be back if that's the case.

*Ukraine def. Tunisia, 1-0: Shevchenko, hated Chelsea striker, wins the match with a penalty kick. It was a joke. He was fighting for the ball in the box, trips on his own feet and the ref awards a PK. What was that? Pathetic. This WC is starting to look like those Lipton tea commercials from the 1980s ... takin' the plunge. More diving than I've ever seen. This wouldn't fly in the EPL. That's why I stick with British football.

This earned Shevchenko a PK. Notice how the defender's legs aren't obstructing anyone.
(AP Photo/Jasper Juinen)

And now Shevchenko can talk smack, though his goal was a freebie.
(AP Photo/Roberto Pfeil)

Spain (3-0-0) vs. France (1-0-2), Tuesday at 2 p.m.
Saudi Arabia (0-2-1) is eliminated.
Switzerland def. Korea, 2-0: Cool SUI goal on a header around the 35' mark. Guy heads it on on a free kick, then slams his nose into the head of a Korean defender. Breaks skin, blood comes poring out. SUI scored a second goal late in the match on a disputed offside call, though replays showed a Korean defender deflected the ball that put SUI offside in the first place. So then it's no offside. Goal. Sorry, Korea. Maybe next time.

France def. Togo, 2-0: Eh. A couple of easy goals close to the ol' onion bag. France squirms its way into the knock-out round. Worst team in the knock-out round, too. Enjoy that match against Spain. That'll be fun.

Switzerland (2-0-1) plays Ukraine (2-1-0), 2 p.m. Monday
France (1-0-2) plays Spain (3-0-0), 2 p.m. Tuesday

Too bad her team won't be around much longer.
AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

I like Swiss football, too.
(AP Photo/Luca Bruno)


World Cup, 6/22

Hey everyone. USA plays Ghana this morning for a possible trip to the knockout round. I'm pretty into this, call it patriotism, so I'll be providing in-game updates.
*Brasil def. Japan, 4-1: Ronaldo, "Fatty" to much of the world, scored twice and now is tired with former German star Gerd Muller as the WC's all-time goal scorer. Impressive. Brasil looked excellent throughout. That's the first time I've said that in a while.

*Australia and Croatia, 2-2: This draw allowed the Socceroos to move into the knock-out round. Australia fell behind in the second half but a controversial goal by Harry Kewell around the 80' mark equalized. Kewell took a header pass to his right leg and blasted it far corner for the goal. Replays showed that Kewell was offsides at the time. This play will be disputed in Croatia for years. A mild hose job.

Harry Kewell was offside when he scored, but who's counting?
(AP Photo/Daniel Maurer)

*Brasil (3-0-0) plays Ghana (2-1-0) on Tuesday, 10 a.m.
*Australia (1-1-1) plays Italy (2-0-1) on Monday, 10 a.m.
*Ghana def. USA, 2-1: Claudio Reyna, who isn't good anymore, lost the ball in the back and that lost ball landed in the net about five seconds later. Reyna was carted off with an apparent injury. USA equalized on a short blast from Clint Dempsey, set up by a through ball from DeMarcus Beasley. At 48', Ghana was awarded a PK for a completely imaginary foul just inside the box. Laughable. That restored the Black Stars' one-goal advantage. That was enough.

I wasn't satisfied with the US effort in the first and last games of the WC. The Italy game was fine. There was intensity. The problem is that we don't have star-caliber players. Landon Donovan and Beasley are soft like a dinner roll. We need more people like Brian McBride and Dempsey. US didn't deserve to advance, and didn't.

US (0-2-1) is eliminated.
Ghana (2-1-0) plays (Brazil) on Tuesday at 10 a.m.

Clint Dempsey has some intensity, unlike most of his teammates.
(AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

*Italy def. Czech Republic, 2-0: Italy scored on a corner header. CZE played a man down due to a first-half red card. I didn't see the second goal.

Italy (2-0-1) plays (Australia/Croatia/Japan) on Monday at 10 a.m.
Czech Republic (1-2-0) is eliminated.

Here's a few cheesecake pictures for your enjoyment since you took the time to surf in.

EDIT: Added two this afternoon.

Less aggressive, but excellent in their own manner.
(AP Photo/Christof Stache)

They seem aggressive and coy: Croatia fans.
(AP Photo/Daniel Maurer)

She looks happy and bright.
(AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

Soccer chicks are good for the soul, part II
(AP Photo/Luca Bruno)


Michael Owen's luck

As you all know from reading, I like the England National Team a lot. I have given Michael Owen some grief for underperforming in the WC, and even said I didn't think his injury during the Sweden draw was all that important.

Doctors today found that Owen has torn the ACL in his right knee. He'll need surgery, and will be out anywhere from six months to a year. Soccer players are so hard on their knees. He can't come back halfway. It's doubly tough for him because he signed with Newcastle United last year, and missed half the EPL season with a broken foot.

Now comes this. Owen seems like a stand-up guy (all betting issues aside) and it sucks that good people get hurt sometimes. I hope he comes back better than ever.

England striker Michael Owen: Injured again.
(AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

World Cup, 6/21

Hey everyone. Another cloudless, 96-degree day in the Alabama capitol. Today is the solstice, too, which is difficult for me. Beginning tomorrow, the days start getting shorter as we tumble toward winter. I hate winter. I hate cold. I was born to live in Belize, Barbados, Trinidad. Can I cover Auburn from there?

OK. Soccer.
*Holland and Argentina, 0-0: Awful match. Truly awful. The teams had nothing to on the line because they're already through to the knock-out round. NED sat six major players to clear their yellow-card residue. Van Der Sar made a couple excellent saves to keep Holland in this one, though neither team played with much conviction.
Next up:
Holland (2-0-1) plays Portugal (3-0-0) on Sunday at 2 p.m. (ESPN)
Argentina (2-0-1) plays Mexico (1-1-1) on Saturday at 2 p.m. (ABC)

These kids think Maradona is the Material Girl.
(AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

*Ivory Coast def. Serbia, 3-2: Very entertaining. Serbia moved ahead 2-0 at the half. Ivory Coast caught up on a consummated corner kick and a PK. Kalou scored on a second PK at 88', setting off a wild celebration in the stands. What a finish. The team's keeper couldn't watch the final PK; he was too nervous.
Next up:
Ivory Coast (1-2-0) is eliminated.
Serbia & Montenegro (0-3-0) is eliminated.

IVC keeper Boubacar Barry prays for a win.
(AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
*Portugal def. Mexico, 2-1: POR moved ahead by two on a goal by Maniche and a PK from Simao. Then Mexico scored about 10' later on a sweet corner. Mexico missed a second-half PK and later missed a good chance on a set piece. No matter -- Mexico advances anyway. Maybe MEX can get Borgetti back. That's the only way they can be a factor.
Next up:
Portugal (3-0-0) plays Holland (2-0-1) on Sunday, 2 p.m. (ESPN)
Mexico (1-1-1) plays Argentina (3-0-0) on Saturday, 2 p.m. (ABC)

Maniche gets his moment in the sun, though the stadium is domed today.
(AP Photo/Claudio Cruz)

*Iran and Angola, 1-1: I didn't watch much of this one because I was fixated on the Portugal match. Angola was ahead, then lost the lead on a well-played corner fairly late in the match.
Next up:
Angola (0-1-2) is eliminated.
Iran (0-2-1) is eliminated.
On Univision, the commentators get excited for some yellow cards by bellowing "AMARILLO" ... which, as I have learned, is Spanish for "yellow".

I think it's hysterical. The pic below is great for a few reasons.
a.) Tim De Cler, the guy getting the card, forearmed the "injured" guy on a header. Totally guilty.
b.) Cocu, to De Cler's left, looks in incredulously. Like he doesn't know what happened.
c.) Riquelme, to De Cler's right, knows his teammate isn't hurt and is barely interested.

Amarillo for you, big boy.
(AP Photo/Michael Probst)


World Cup, 6/20

Hey everyone. I love watching England play, so I spent my morning anticipating the big match with Sweden.

*England and Sweden, 2-2: England moved ahead 2-1 late on a perfect header from Gerrard, assist to hated Chelsea mid-fielder Joe Cole. Then SWE F Fred Ljunberg scored in the 90th friggin' minute to force the draw. What a mess for the Brits.

England wins Group B and will play Ecuador on Sunday morning. Sweden finished second in the group, and gets a fun match against Germany on Saturday morning. Those will be elimination games.

F Micahel Owen seemed to hurt a knee in the second minute. He's out. Waiting on an assessment of the injury. In his place is Robo-Flop, aka Liverpool striker Peter Crouch. In the EPL, he celebrates goals with a dumb robot dance.

This does not look good for England.
(AP Photo/Michael Probst)

*Paraguay up on Trinidad/Tobago, 2-0: Pass.

*PROGRAMMING NOTE: The daily matches no longer are staggered. There are two game times per day, and two games are played concurrently. I have to choose. I'm sticking with the England match this afternoon, and will get periodic updates from trusted correspondent Bradley Handwerger of Decatur Daily fame.
*Germany def. Ecuador, 3-0: Another butt-kicking, though this one came against a pretty goood side. Ecudaor didn't have the speed to stay with Klose, who scored twice. After his first goal, Klose ran to the side and flipped. Check out the pic below. Germany wins the group, though Ecuador moves into the knock-out round by finishing second in Group A.

Apologizes to Ozzie Smith, of course.
(AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

*Poland def. Costa Rica, 2-1: Good for Poland. They played awfully against Ecuador i n the opener, but played very well in the 1-0 loss to Germany last week. Finally a win today. There's talk of replacing the coach, though this team seemed fine to me. It just was thrust into a tough group this time. No harm done.


WC Power rankings, 6/19

Pool play is 2/3 finished now. It's time for another look at the official Jay G. Tate World Cup power rankings.

1.) Argentina (2-0-0; play Holland on Wendesday)
So deep. Six goals against Serbia showed the world how deep ARG's squad has become. They have Crespo and Riquelme taking the spotlight, but there are at least four top-rate scorers behind them. The Wednesday match with Holland should be great.

2.) Brazil (2-0-0; play Japan on Thursday)
Not playing all that well right now, but the 2-0 win against Australia during the weekend wasn't a bad exhibition. When this team is tested, I think you'll see Ronaldinho and Adriano rise to the challenge. A lot of people still see BRA as the favorite. I think they're more talented than ARG, but they don't have the same cohesiveness.

3.) Spain (2-0-0; play Saudi Arabia on Friday)
A very good side. I love the way Raul is providing leadership while some of the younger guys make things happen up front. There are more talented teams ranked below ESP here, but this team plays with an intelligence. They have a plan and they're going to follow it.

4.) Germany (2-0-0; play Ecuador on Tuesday)
Game against Ecuador on Tuesday is going to be fun. GER needed a late goal from Neuville to break a 0-0 tie with Poland in the 90th minute, but Poland was playing really well that night. There's a tangible sense of unity with this GER team. Amazing that they came in ranked 19th in the FIFA rankings. They have that underdog aura.

5.) Holland (2-0-0; play Argentina on Wednesday)
Van Persie, Robben and Van Nistelrooy played well together in the 2-1 win against Cote D'Ivoire. My problem with Holland is that the team seems to lose its focus for long stretches. A good opponent is going to exploit that. The Orange play Argentina on Wednesday. That'll answer some questions.

Korea (1-1-0; play Switzerland on Friday) -- Great enthusiasm and they never get tired.

Portugal (2-0-0; play Mexico on Wednesday) -- Plenty of talent, but don't play as a team.

England (2-0-0; play Sweden on Tuesday) -- Still not sure the Brits can score against good teams.

Ecuador (2-0-0; play Germany on Tuesday) -- Five goals for; zero against. Show me something against GER.

World Cup, 6/19

Hello again, everyone. I'm still delirious after watching the KOR-FRA match on Sunday afternoon. That was the most enjoyable match of the WC for me. Korea's enthusiasm was outstanding. I love em.

On to today's business.

*Switzerland def. Togo, 2-0: Togo fell behind early in the first half, then spent the rest of the period seizing control of the match. They blew a great chance at the 40' mark, with a striker missing short-side on a 25-yard shot. It was a bad decision. At the 88' mark, a Swiss striker was presented with the same scenario. He went long side. Goal. Togo didn't fight in the second half. Just didn't seem into the match anymore.

You don't think that's a foul, do you?
(AP Photo/Murad Sezer)

*Ukraine def. Saudi Arabia, 4-0: Ukraine seemed to quit in the 4-0 opening-game loss to Spain, but that's clearly old news now. Shevchenko, recently transferred to hated Chelsea, scored a goal and set up a second with a brilliant pass late in the game. The guy is a stud. UKR's goal differential is back to even. Amazing. Truly amazing.

Serhiy Rebrov, center, is ready to party after that 50-yard yakker.
(AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

*Spain def. Tunisia, 3-1: Tunisia led 1-0 and could have moved ahead by two ... but a poorly taken PK was blocked by ESP keeper Casillas. Spain scored three goals in the second half, though I missed all three because I was at the doctor's office. Spain still has the appearance of a real contender in Germany.
Traveled for my semi-usual meeting with Dr. Mattox. I ditched the splint and was fitted for a short-leg cast. I had a choice of several colors. I settled on blue. I was tempted to choose crimson.

Only teasing, folks.

Dr. Mattox says I'm still looking at four friggin' weeks in a hard cast before I have a chance at the boot. I can't really exercise until the boot goes on because a sweaty cast is a bad cast. I have to live with this thing. I don't want to be offended by the stench.

The cast is significantly heavier and hotter. I'll be staying inside with this thing on. The cool part of today was that I saw the surgical site for the first time, and it was cool. It was probably three inches long. It began parallel to the ground, then bent around my lateral malleolus and headed up toward my knee. The sutures were taken out.

My splint had my foot aimed at a 30-degree angle. To get in the cast, Dr. Mattox bent my ankle to 90 degrees. That was a moderately unpleasant experience. That was the first time I felt the deep pain from the surgical area. That tendon did NOT want to be stretched. I still feel it right now -- and it's been three hours.

Four weeks in this darn thing. Seriously?
(Courtney Tate)


World Cup, 6/18

Hey everyone. I wasn't feeling all that well on Saturday, so I didn't worry with the blog at all. I hit a birthday party at Pump It Up, which left me a little sore from the moving around. Then we hit Applebee's later in the day and I was struggling from that point forward. I'm just not ready to move around much right now. I can't believe it considering how fit I was one week ago!

Enough about me. I'm back now. All is well. Let's get caught up.

*Portugal def. Iran, 2-0: Iran looked pretty awful. Crisitiano Ronaldo, POR's enigmatic but talented midfielder, played the entire game without a meltdown. That's good news for his team, which has advanced to the knock-out round for the first time since 1966. Still not sure how good POR is right now. I'd rank em either 6 or 7.

*Ghana def. Czech Republic, 2-0: Great effort. Fun match. Czech looked so bad here, and played without much enthusiasm. Maybe I overrated them. Ghana lost its two goal-scorers for the upcoming match with the U.S. because of fouls. That's becoming a tournament theme.

*Italy and U.S., 1-1: Eh. Lots of analysis of this match out there. Not much I can add. I thought Eddie Pope's first yellow card was a joke. His second was legit. Pablo's red card seemed appropriate. He slid aggressively, late, and into the guy's plant foot. That'll draw a red in international play most of the time. USA still has a chance to advance, which is not very important. USA can't score right now. Advance to play Brasil? That's a payoff?
*Japan and Croatia, 0-0: Saw only parts of this one. I was headed to church. Scoreless tie doesn't warrant a lof of commentary.

*Brasil def. Australia, 2-0: Adriano scored on a longer ball in the first half. It was fairly nice. Then Ronaldinho missed a second-half strike, only to see unknown Fred ease in for an easy deflection score. Watching Fred freak out after that goal was outstanding. What fun this game is!

Fred goes into full happy-meltdown mode against Australia.
(AP Photo/Thomas Kienzle)

*Korea and France, 1-1: Late goal by Ji-Sung Park, one of my Man U boys, gives Korea a draw they'll take without hesitation. France appeared to score a second goal when a strike hit the goalkeeper's hand about a foot beyond the goal line. The goal was disallowed. Korea was punchy and aggressive during the second half. That is a fun team to watch. Those are fun fans to hear. I'll be anticipating all of KOR's matches from this point forward.

Ji-Sung Park, bottom right, celebrates his equalizing goal against France on Sunday.
(AP Photo/Eckehard Schulz)

The KOR fans, my favorite of the tournament so far, get rowdy before the France match.
(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Also, I have to add, Zidane's yellow card in the 86th minute was a joke. That wasn't even a foul, much less an immediate yellow. Now he's out for France's final match of pool play, and that might be the final moment of his international career. Stupid officiating.

My overseas correspondent, Jeff Vinson of Cheltenham, England, says the BBC commentators observed that the French coach will be "vilified and castigated" by the French population tomorrow. Um, yeah, I bet that happens.
UP NEXT (on Monday, all on ESPN2)
Togo v. Switzerland, 7:55 a.m.
Saudi Arabia v. Ukraine, 10:55 a.m.
Spain v. Tunisia, 1:55 p.m.

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