FIFA World Cup #10: A New Winner

The Netherlands will clash with Spain in the final of the tournament at  Soccer City Stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg,  on July 11, 2010.

Each team’s top scorer in the 2010 World Cup. Wesley Sneijder for the Dutch and David Villa for Spain are definitely players to watch.

On Sunday the 11th of July 20:30 local time in South Africa, the final of the 2010 FIFA World Cup will commence and later on in the night,  a new winner will be announced. It’s the Netherlands vs. Spain. Both have not won a World Cup yet, and are considered the biggest underachievers in international football. They are really. The Dutch have come closest to win the World Cup by reaching the final twice in the 1970s. First in 1974 where they lost famously to the Germans. And later in 1978. They were considered favourites on both occasions, and lost out to the host nations.

In this final though, they play as the underdogs. Everyone is going for Spain, because of their so-called beautiful play. And, don’t forget Paul the Octopus. Haven’t heard of him? He’s the psychic Octopus that has predicted every match the Germans have played in this World Cup. And he’s got them all right. Search him up. He predicted Spain instead of Holland, but my hopes are still with the Dutch.

This is the psychic octopus.

Yes, this is a one-sided blog entry. I’m a Dutch fan. Have always been. In the international stage of football I’ve always cheered on for Holland. Ever since I started watching and liking football. My granddad loved the Dutch, and he lived in the time of Cruyff. He was his favourite player you know. Mine also I guess. But I live now, and I’m saying I think it’s time for them to win a World Cup. Spain can wait. Netherlands have already waited for over 30 years.

Am I even going to preview the final match which will take place in Soccer City? Sure. But don’t expect me to speak a lot about the Spanish.

The Dutch arrived where they are now with some competition. They topped their group stage with a perfect record, beating Japan, Denmark and Cameroon. The Spaniards also topped their group but lost their opening match against Switzerland. In the knockout round, the Dutch had to go through the likes of Brazil and Uruguay. Spain had to edge their way past big teams like Portugal and Germany. I say this is the ideal final for this World Cup.

Head-to-head on previous occasions have been incredibly even. With both winning four in nine meetings. Drawing just the one time. Oranje have of course been this far, in 1974 and 1978. At both occasions they lost to host nations Germany and Argentina. But now the side that has abandoned their ‘total football’ has to go up against another underachiever. Spain, the reigning European Champions. It’s a hard opponent.

Whoever wins though, will end an old hoodoo. That is that no European side have ever won the World Cup outside of their soil. And and and. None of these teams have ever won the Cup. So they will be the eighth team ever to ever hold the glorious trophy. But the Dutch need it.

Dutch legend Johan Cruyff, after leading his team to the finals himself in 1974, have pointed the Spanish as favourites. Traitor?  Well, he’s played a lot of his football for Spanish club Barcelona, and currently manages the Cataluna side. But this is a real let down to the Dutch leading on to the match. Knowing that their most famous player doesn’t really think highly of them.

So, I conclude by saying that the Dutch have to win. That is all.

What they said
“I don’t see David Villa as Spain’s most dangerous player. The ones you really have to watch are Xavi [Hernandez] and [Andres] Iniesta. They’re the players who set the tempo and make sure the ball gets to Villa. We have to stop them from playing and getting free. We need to mark them very tightly because if we give them the slightest space we’ll have problems,” Arjen Robben, Netherlands forward.

“I don’t think they’ll sit back and defend. They’ve got some quick players who are in terrific form right now. They’ll do what we do and stick to their style. I know Robben. He’s quick powerful and strong, and his shooting from outside the area is a concern for me. What we need to do is cut him off, although there’s more to the Netherlands than just Robben. They are powerful in defence and midfield, and [Wesley] Sneijder and [Dirk] Kuyt are just as dangerous,” Iker Casillas, Spain goalkeeper and captain.

madeineastsea Ball at the finals: A Golden Jabulani. 

A golden Jabulani ball. This is the ball for the finale of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Be Kind Rewind

Jack Black and Mos Def re-enacting the classic “Ghostbusters”

“Be Kind Rewind” is a pleasant and occasionally LOL movie. Director Michel Gondry set this movie on earth. But otherwise, the movie happens in a world you’ll never see. Not because there are weird monsters or cool sci-fi gadgets. It’s simply because of the pure simplicity (or stupidity) of the people in it.

The movie is a funny one. At least for the first half of it. Correction: The first half of the movie is hilarious beyond explanation. If it maintained that momentum throughout the 102 minutes running time, I would name it one of the best comedies ever. Unfortunately, it lost heat. It lost ideas. The originality faded.

In Passaic, N.J, on a street corner, a shabby VHS store exists. This belongs to Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) who has convinced himself (and everyone else) that it was the birthplace of famous jazz musician Fats Waller. I don’t know who he is. Because Mr. Fletcher is behind in his rent, so his store is on the brink of being closed down. For what? Starbucks, KFC?

He’s going undercover. To another DVD store nearby which has gained ‘inexplicable’ success. I’m guessing that’s because they rent out DVDs, not VHS. Mr. Fletcher not knowing this is a sign of his unawareness of his market. Of the modern world for that matter. His loyal clerk Mike (Mos Def) is left in charge of the store while he’s away.

The store has a loyal visitor/nuisance Jerry (Jack Black). He is paranoid of a power plant nearby and decides to sneak it on night. With the effect of him being zapped by super-charged electricity. He doesn’t die. He maintains minimal injury. Instead, he become magnetic and upon coming in the store, erases every single one of them.

Mike is angry. He’s worried too. How can he fix this problem before the boss that placed all his trust onto him comes back? He doesn’t have the money to replace them all. And how hard is it to find VHS tapes these days? Spark of brilliance: they will re-enact each movie and rent them out to unsuspecting customers like Miss Falewicz (Mia Farrow). How is this not brilliant?

This is what makes the movie as funny as it is. They re-enact movies like “Ghostbusters” and “Rush Hour 2” with a girl they ‘found’ named Alma (Melonie Diaz). Jack Black is a real and consistent comedian. He uses his manic personality to full use here, and never seems to overdo it. Until the second half arrives. The originality and freshness of the concept is gone. Suddenly watching them re-enacting the movie isn’t as fun anymore. And the movie’s plot fails it. It reduces into trying to be emotionally worthwhile, and fails. The final act has a human touch, but doesn’t seem to have the space to make it all work

Now, I recommend “Be Kind Rewind” simply because it is very funny. At least for the first half it is. You’ll enjoy Jack Black, Mos Def and the beautiful but relatively unknown Diaz here. But that’s about it. It’s an affable movie that tries to craft itself to something more, but falls short. The humour saves it.

FIFA World Cup #9: Is third place really that important?

A third place match will happen in a World Cup. It’s because in the tradition of sport, you have the winner, the runner-up, and the third place winner. This is to maintain the medals given out, which are gold, silver and bronze. But in a football tournament such as the World Cup, is third place important?

Why do I ask this? It’s because the match that determines the second runner-up is played between the two teams that lost their semi-final matches. When a team reaches the semi-finals of a World Cup, they’ll be expecting to reach the finale. That’s because it’s just so close. It hurts the most when you drop-out in the semis. But, you’re not exactly out of the competition yet you know. There’s still that third place match.

But, I guess a third place match is good. It adds one more match to the competition before it ends. I personally would not like to see the Cup come to an end, but alas, that’s impossible. My life kind of revolved around two hours of TV in the very early morning this past month. Wonder what it’ll be like after.

But not just because of that. Fifa.com argues that there were some very interesting and attractive matches played for third place. Like four years ago where hosts Germany were fully determined against Portugal to take home bronze after a 3-1 victory. Or in 1990 where again hosts Italy beat England after a disappointing semi-final against Argentina. I did not watch this match, and I only vaguely remember the previous World Cup third place match. But I agree with FIFA.

And it’s in these matches where you usually see open and scintillating play by both sides. Why? Because they both basically have nothing to lose anymore. So play is bound to open up and goals will come. So in this year’s face-off between Uruguay and Germany, I’ll be looking for a good match.

German captain Philipp Lahm cries in a press conference after losing to Spain in the semi-finals

The two have met in a third place match 40 years ago where Germany edged out by scoring the only goal. Nationalmannschaft have also met up with La Celeste in the quarter-finals of the 1966 World Cup in England, where Germany won 4-0. Indeed the Germans have dominated the history between the two, winning six out of nine meetings, and only losing once. And that was the 1928 Olympics. How long ago was that?

The Uruguayans will be looking at making their best run in the Cup since winning it in Brazil in 1950. They’ve actually won it twice remember, and are the original winners of it. But Tabarez’s side won’t be looking at their unfavourable history with the Germans. The players have said they want third place. And no one is really saying why they can’t. Luis Suarez will be coming back from his suspension for his ‘next hand of god’. Captain Diego Lugano is declared fit from injury after missing the semis against Holland. And the biggest relief perhaps comes from Forlan who is also declared fit after a minor injury blow from the semis. He’s still in the running for the golden boot, with only one goal behind the five goals scored by both Wesley Sneijder and David Villa.

The Germans were on form. Before losing agonizingly from Spain in the semis 1-0, they looked invincible. Well, I bet they’re also looking to take the third place spot. Especially with their striker Miroslav Klose one goal away with drawing even with Ronaldo’s 15-goal World Cup record. But with injury problem for Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira, coack Joachim Low is likely to be putting out those players who haven’t played yet. Just for the sake of it.

So, is third place really that important? Yes, I guess so. It sure isn’t as glorious as the final, but another great match of football won’t hurt anyone will it? I’m neutral for this one. Either team winning won’t mind me at all. I’m just gonna be hoping for a swashbuckling showdown of football.

This combo of recent photos shows Uruguay's striker Diego Forlan (L) and Germany's striker Miroslav Klose (R)

Both teams’ top strikers: Diego Forlan and Miroslav Klose

A Serious Man

Sy Ableman comforts Larry Gopnik after having just stolen his wife.

Larry Gopnik leads a sad, depressing life. His wife is leaving him for a sleazy man widow. He has a daughter and a son. The girl’s stealing money for a nose job. The boy’ listening to rock and roll in a strict Hebrew school. His brother-in-law is sleeping on his couch and is seriously weird. His life isn’t easy. Uncertainties are thrown towards him and he has minimal time to respond.

Then again though, he lectures about physics. He draws bewildering equations of mathematical proof of certainty. You should think he would know what he’s doing with his life. He doesn’t have a clue. At times there are stills of him, just staring, confused. Oh, and he has a South Korean student who’s trying to bribe him to get a passing grade. That guy is also seriously weird.

The central role of Larry Gopnik is played by Michael Stuhlbarg. He is the serious man in the Coen brothers’ “A Serious Man”. It’s set in a Jewish enclave in Minnesota in 1967. And should I say, it is a very Jewish film. Heck the first scene was spoken entirely in Yiddish where a village couple invite inside there home a dybbuk. A dybbuk is the wandering soul of a dead man. This couple is supposedly Larry’s ancestors. So, does this mean the family line is cursed for life?

Larry is a serious man because he strives to do the right thing. Even when things start getting out of hand, he tries his best to figure out what’s happening. He’s the kind of guy that wants to know what the universe is trying to tell him. Or god for that matter. But he ask questions of what he is doing wrong in his life. How come even in his sexual fantasies with his neighbour Mrs. Samsky (Amy Landecker), he’s terrified? Why does his wife seem to hate him oh so much?

The movie is about how Larry copes with his problem. It’s like a combination of strong faith in religion with dark, witty humour. And it is said to be a very personal Coen brothers feature, with the neighbourhood resembling theirs growing up. Well if they did live in Larry’s world, it was a damn bizarre world to be in.

The whole cast is great. And the only actor I was familiar with was the junior rabbi that Larry visited. He’s played by Simon Helberg. Don’t know who he is? Well he’s that weird Howard guy in the TV series “The Big Bang Theory”. In here, he’s also weird. With his parking lot advice and stuff. You’ll get what I mean if you’ve watched the movie.

The most memorable supporting character is probably Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed). He’s that sleazy widower who steals Larry wife I was talking about. I felt that I’ve seen him once before, but I just can’t remember. Indeed the cast is full of these actors. But there are no Brad Pitts or George Clooneys as there were in the Coens’ 2008 film “Burn After Reading”.

Well, Sy doesn’t feel embarrassed at all that he stole Larry’s wife. In fact, he sympathizes him. He gives Larry long hugs and, as he believes, helpful talks. As if he understand and knows what Larry’s going through. And in Roger Ebert’s words: “Ableman is not only the grief, but the grief counselor. Such chutzpah, you have to admire.”

What a peculiar world these characters live in. Joel and Ethan Coen have made a movie that is as miserable as it is funny. Those kinds of movies don’t come often too. But there is a moral to it too. It comes near the end, and it is worth waiting for. The movie makes it worth watching again and again. The Coen brothers have become very comfortable filmmakers. They’re in their zone, and they don’t look like they’re stopping.

FIFA World Cup #8: Oh whatever happened to Germany’s magic?

Germany defeated Australia 4-0 in the group stage. They beat England 4-1 in the round of 16. And they humiliated Maradona’s Argentina 4-0 in the quarter-finals. Notice that they’ve scored four goals in three matches of the World Cup finals. That’s never been done before I think. They’ve played brilliantly and I think they came into the semifinal match as favourites.

But a very committed Spain edged out the versatile Germany. First Europe in 2008, who knows, they might take the world. The 74th-minute header into goal by Puyol proved to be enough to repeat the final two years ago (also against Germany).

I didn’t actually watch the match. I watched the three minutes of added time at the end. Why? My alarm broke. Dare I swear in my writing? Oh well, I watched the highlights and looking at that alone, yes Spain deserved to win. I also heard that they dominated and Germany were a bit laid back. Not very Germany-like isn’t it?

Carles Puyol of Spain (C) celebrates with teammates after scoring the opening goal during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Semi Final match between Germany and Spain

I must admit that I in fact thought that Germany would pull, well a Germany and annihilate the Del Bosque’s side. I predicted wrongly and instead Spain pulled a Spain and dominated possession and edged the Germans by 1-0. All I’m disappointed about is that I didn’t watch the match.

So the finale in Johannesburg’s Soccer City will guarantee a new World Cup winner after the Netherlands beat Uruguay in a five-goal twister. 3-2 was the final score, to the Dutch. And by winning the semifinals, they continue their 24-match unbeaten streak. And they remain the only side in this World Cup to always win. The undefeated status goes to both Holland and yep, New Zealand.

The Dutch full-heartedly deserved to win the match and advance to the final. This match against Uruguay proved very entertaining, not as tight and pragmatic as I expected it to be. It also featured excellent goals by Van Bronckhorst, Diego Forlan, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Maximiliano Pereira.

The 18th-minute goal from Van Bronckorst was a wicked strike 30 yards away from the goal. Upon receiving a pass from his teammate on the left side area, the Dutch captain just unleashed a shot that could possibly be the best of the tournament. When the Dutch threat was minimal, and the match was verging on boredom, who knew it was the left-back who would liven the whole match up.

But it isn’t only the Oranje who can create a goal out of nowhere. Stand-in captain Forlan curved a shot from just outside the Dutch box four minutes before half-time. While it wasn’t as specatacular as Van Bronckhorst’s goal and keeper Stekelenburg should have saved it, it was nevertheless a superbly struck goal.

Arjen Robben of the Netherlands celebrates scoring the third goal as Diego Perez of Uruguay (R) stands dejected

The second half started all even, with both mentally aware of the 45 minutes they had ahead of them. The Dutch were the dominant one anyway though. With a couple of obvious chances before a once again deflected shot by Sneijder that made it 2-1 to Oranje.

Before the Uruguayans could equalize, their World Cup hope was shattered by an accurate cross from Kuyt that was headed in by Robben. 3-1. Game, set and match.

Pereira did score an equally magnificent consolation three minutes before the 90 minutes, which made them hope again. But the Dutch managed and that was that for the only non-European side.

Now the Dutch are through to the final of the World Cup for the first time since 1978. They managed two consecutive finals remember, in 1974 and 1978. Will 2010 be their year? There’s only Spain in their way who are also hoping to hold the coveted trophy for the first time. But don’t forget about the 3rd place match a day before the final between Uruguay and Germany. Sure no one remembers the second runner-up, but it promises to be a good game nonetheless. I know that I’ll (try) to wake up for it. And of course the final later.

Torres surprisingly didn’t start the match. It proved to be an effective change of tactics by coach Del Bosque.

FIFA World Cup #7: Three Europeans in the semis, who knew?

The last eight of the 2010 FIFA World Cup consisted of four South American teams, three Europeans and one African. People everywhere thought that at least two would go to the semi-finals, leaving two more spots.

Well, people were wrong. Just one team from South America come through, and it’s not Brazil or Argentina. It’s Uruguay. The other three semi-final spots go to Netherlands, Germany and Spain. South Africa is now looking more like a stage for Europe now, whereas everyone thought it was for South America earlier in the competition.

The sole South American, Uruguay, have not had quite the steady ride in their tournament. They topped their group, yes. But had trouble in the quarter-finals against Ghana. After drawing level 1-1 in normal time, they conceived a penalty on the last minute of extra time. The last friggin’ minute. And Suarez was sent off for a goal-saving hand ball. But guess what? Penalty-taker Asamoah Gyan shoots, and hits the top crossbar. In other words, he misses. And in Coach Tabarez’s words via the internet:  “The hand of Suarez is the hand of God and the Virgin Mary – that’s how Uruguayans see it.”

Suarez’s ‘rational’ handball

So the match goes to penalties and ‘The Black Stars’ misses twice, losing 4-2. This sucks because they would’ve been the first African team to reach the semi-finals. But Uruguay prevails and will be hoping to win the World Cup for the first time since their early years of success in 1930. They are after all, the first winners ever.

The Uruguayans will be meeting the Dutch in the semi-finals after Bert van Marwijk’s men defeated Brazil 2-1 in the quarter-finals. Surprising indeed. But I’m ecstatic. I’m rooting for Netherlands to make it all the way. I’ve always been rooting for them since I started liking football. THEY DESERVE TO WIN THE WORLD CUP.

I’d like to say that ‘Oranye” deserved to beat Brazil, but it was a pretty even match. They were one down at half-time and Sneijder scored two goals in the second half to eventually become the man of the match. The Dutch gained a lot of confidence after scoring once, and played with much more natural flair. But their finishing wasn’t sharp enough. They slowed down when they were in front of the goal. Like they were content with a 2-1 lead. But the Brazilians were surprisingly playing dirty, getting fouls here and there, and Felipe Melo even getting a red card for fouling Robben. I do thing they deserved it though.

The other semi-final will see the 2008 Euros final be relived with Spain vs. Germany. Germany’s quarter-finals looked at them face Diego Maradona’s Argentinean side. And they crushed them 4-0. Who ever thought that scoreline would emerge? Argentina looked so good coming to the match, winning all four of their previous matches. I personally thought Argentina would’ve won.

Germany did not dominate the match. In fact the possession was kinda even. But this match did not disappoint. Germany drew first blood in the third minute. Fastest goal of the 2010 World Cup finals so far. The only problem for Joachim Low’s side? Argentina has 87 minutes to comeback. But the excellent tactical organization and fast counter-attacks made Germany the better side. They do deserve it, and seem indestructible now.

Spain on the other hand had a hard time against Paraguay in the last eight. Paraguay’s extremely tight defending seemed to make Spain’s patient play not so patient. They could not seem to keep their attack together and only a moment of genius from Iniesta saved them from extra time. David Villa again scoring the goal though.

The three minutes in the middle of the second half seemed to be the only climax. Three penalties occurred, with the one canceled one being the only one hitting the back of the net. First, Pique pulls Cardozo down on the Spanish end to concede a penalty, but Casillas makes a sublime save. Three minutes later on the other end, Villa gets tackled and Xabi Alonso executes clinically. But wait, the referee cancels it because some Spanish players were in the box before the penalty was kicked. This was unnecessary. Alonso’s second shot was saved. I was stupefied.

Alonso celebrates his first penalty that went it. It was later disallowed for encroachment.

Paraguay’s keeper Justo Villar celebrates after saving Alonso’s second attempt at his penalty. This was insane.

Okay, so wrapping up, I didn’t expect three European teams in the last four at all. I’m vastly happy that the Netherlands are through, and I still believe that they can go all the way. It’s their time. They have the players, the gameplay, the tactics. They just need to step it up and have a little bit of luck.

FIFA World Cup #6: The other quarter-final previews

Argentina vs. Germany

This duel is expected to come out as an excellent match. Especially looking at their vibrant form and fresh from memory duel in the last World Cup for years ago. I’m definitely watching the match.

These two teams share five FIFA World Cup titles between them. The two have a history of great football and world class players. The winner of the two will grab a place in the semi-finals.

So, Argentina have been flawless in the group stages of the competition. Three out of three wins. Then eliminating Mexico in the second round. Diego Maradona was surrounded by much doubt before the tournament, but he has found his winning team. With Messi naturally being in the center of it. They can also look back at their friendly on March against the Germans, winning 1-0. With Gonzalo Higuain scoring the only goal and scintillating.

The Germans have not had a flawless run, but it has nevertheless been impressive. A surprise loss against Serbia in the group stage, they came back to beat Ghana and finally topping the group. They then disposed of long rivals England with a 4-1 win. Impressive indeed. Joachim Low’s young side have proved their experience with exuberant attacking play.

I think you have to watch Argentina’s Higuain and Germany’s Klose in the match. The two strikers have been on fire, with Higuain proving to be a young star, and Klose the sharp veteran. Klose of course won the Golden Boot four years ago, and he still has the ability to do it again.

This is probably the hardest game to predict of all the quarter-finals. Both have showcased vibrant football, and are still favourites to make it all the way. But alas, one has to surrender. And I think the Germans will. Argentina are more experienced and they have Messi. Yes that’s my argument. They have Messi.

Paraguay vs. Spain

Paraguay and Spain apparently speak the same language, but they don’t share the same language on the field of football. Paraguay approaches their matches in a stubborn and disciplined defending way. While the Spanish are all about keeping ball-possession and patient attacking.

Spain hasn’t reached a semi-final, ever. So they’ll be looking to do just that. Although they had a rough start to the World Cup, losing 1-0 to Switzerland, they won every game after that. And that includes beating Portugal 1-0 in the second round. They’ve stayed true to their football style, which is patient passing. Really patient. And this is good, better than the un-Brazilian Brazil side.

Paraguay on the other hand will be looking at upsetting the Spaniards. Coach Gerardo Martino has asked his players to defend as well as they usually do, and pay attention to the silky Spanish play. He’s also looking at his midfielders to try to oppress the likes of Iniesta and Xavi. From the looks of it, both teams seem as dedicated as each other.

And they should be. The semis is looking like an all European and South American affair. But I think Europe will prevail here. Paraguay just don’t got it. Spain’s too good. Clear Euro Champions favourites.

Training’s looking pretty good for Paraguay