Monday, June 28, 2010

That Is How You Do That

You simply cannot strike a soccer ball any better than Carlos Tevez does in this video:

That, my friends, is a perfect shot (it was measured at 111 kph). The best reply of it is the one that begins at 1:09.

(apologies for the dodgy video quality. I'll try to find better)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Why They're Out

Well, the round-robin portion of the World Cup is now behind us, and I had been thinking that it might be fun to take a look at the teams that failed to advance to the knockout stages, and take a stab at analyzing what happened. Then Italy were eliminated. So now I think it would be useful to take a look at the teams that are going home early. So let's do this thing!

Group A

South Africa

Why Are They Out? Sadly, their only thing they really had going for them was home-field advantage. In a combination of bad luck and bad planning, they ended up hosting the tournament at a time when their national team was as weak as it's been in years. Any Positives? They did win a game, if only over the shattered remnants of the French team. And hey, they're hosting the World Cup.


Why Are They Out? Because the Soccer Gods will not be mocked. You may recall that the French qualified for South Africa '10 under highly dubious circumstances, and this tournament was a disaster for them. One of their best players was sent home, their captain was benched, the team refused to practise, and a grand total of one goal was scored. At press time, Ireland was still giggling. Any Positives? Nope.

Group B


Why Are They Out? They were never likely to qualify out of a group that included Argentina and Nigeria, and the only big surprise was that it was South Korea who pipped them for the second spot. They did themselves no favours by coming out flatter than flat against Korea in the opening game. Any Positives? When opportunity presented itself suddenly against Nigeria, the Greeks took full advantage and went on to win the game.


Why Are They Out? Nigeria are usually among the strongest of the African sides, but they were a pale shadow of that this time around - in fact, they were damn lucky to qualify for the finals at all. Then, in their game against Greece, Sani Kaita lashed out petulantly at a Greek player and was justly sent off. Nigeria lost the game, and that was pretty much the end for them. Any Positives? They'll be back - they're still likely favourites to be the first African team to actually win the Cup.

Group C


Why Are They Out?The second half against the United States destroyed them. If they'd held onto their thoroughly deserved 2-0 lead, they'd have won Group C. Any positives? Well, they did get themselves that 2-0 lead against the U.S. The ex-Yugoslavian nations tend to punch above their weight, football-wise, so I doubt we've seen the last of the Slovenians at this level.


Why Are They Out? They were in over their heads in this group, and it showed, as the Algerians scored a grand total of zero goals at South Africa '10. They can probably be filed under "just happy to be at the finals at all." Any Positives? Their defense was excellent; Algeria conceded just two goals, and one of them, against Slovenia, was a muff by the goalkeeper. In addition, they forced a draw against England (it was unquestionably the worst game of the tournament so far, but that's beside the point).

Group D


Why Are They Out? Australia got run over by Germany in their opening game, and, although they rallied somewhat, it wasn't enough. They also had discipline problems, picking up red cards in each of their first two games. Finally, this year's edition of the Australian team was perhaps just a tad long in the tooth. Any Positives? Prior to the qualifying tournaments for this World Cup, Australia made the risky decision leave the Oceania group and try to qualify out of Asia. It's paid off in spades already, and the improved competition will only raise the quality of Australian soccer.


Why Are They Out? They were really very close to progressing, but played terribly in their last game, against Australia. Nerves, in this case, may have been the issue. Any Positives? Sure. This was an independent Serbia's first World Cup, and I'm sure they'll be back (see comments, in the section about Slovenia, on ex-Yugoslav teams). From this tournament, they can at least take away the memory of having beaten Germany.

Group E


Why Are They Out? In a weird way, the Danes are only going home because Japan turned out to be stronger than anyone thought they were. However, Denmark were too often guilty of an inability to create their own scoring chances; their three goals at the tournament came from two defensive errors and a dubious penalty. Any Positives? They took good advantage of Cameroon's defensive frailties, and at least came away from the tournament with a win (and scored a lovely goal, for all that it came out of comedy defending).


Why Are They Out? Cameroon were just awful on defense. Their defenders were caught out badly twice by Denmark, and the goal they gave up against Japan was preventable as well. Cameroon were probably the most disappointing of the African sides, losing all three of their games. Any Positives? Cameroon's poor performance at South Africa '10 was probably just a one-off. They will be back.

Group F

New Zealand

Why Are They Out? On paper, they were the weakest team at this World Cup. They surpassed all expectations for them (and how!), but didn't quite have enough to claim one of the top two group spots. Any Positives? Oh Hell yes! Of all the eliminated teams, the All-Whites can probably hold their heads up the highest. They didn't lose a game at the tournament (Ok, they didn't win one either, but still), and the 1-1 draw with Italy will go down as one of the country's most glorious soccer moments.


Why Are They Out? I could go on at length. In short, though, they were nervous and poorly prepared. The Azzurri far too often looked like they were playing to not lose, rather than to win, and even Gattuso's eventual inclusion in the third game couldn't pull them out of it for all his efforts (* puts away dead horse and whip *). They also never settled tactically; one newspaper report that I read noted that Italy, in three games, used three formations, "each worse than the last." Any Positives? They're hard to see, but they are there. There can surely be no opposition at home to the notion of bidding farewell to what's left of the 2006 team, and there are some useful young guys on the way. Expect to hear the names "Montolivo" and "Balotelli" quite a lot in any future discussions of Italian soccer.

Group G

Ivory Coast

Why Are They Out? Ah, at this point the old "Group of Death" syndrome raises its head. Each World Cup seems to feature a group with three deserving teams, and at South Africa 2010 it was Group G, which featured Brazil and Portugal along with Ivory Coast. It came down to the Ivorians needing Brazil to do them a favour against Portugal, and that simply didn't happen. Any Positives? In any other group, the Ivory Coast would have stood an excellent chance of progressing.

North Korea

Why Are They Out? In that group, they never had a chance. North Korea don't qualify often for the World Cup, and it's pretty easy to see why. They were simply and completely out-classed, losing their last two games by a combined score of 10-0. Any Positives? They hung with Brazilians for an hour before finally going down in one of the tournament's better games. Plus, they produced one of this World Cup's "Awwwww" moments, when one of their players burst into tears during the national anthem before their first game.

Group H


Why Are They Out? Their opening-game win over Spain turned out to be a fluke, not an indication that the Swiss were stronger than they appeared. They failed completely to follow it up, losing to Chile and bowing out of the tournament after a tepid draw with Honduras. Switzerland simply lacked the quality to find a way into the second round. Any Positives? They did earn that famous victory against Spain.


Why Are They Out? Honduras were another team that were in a bit over their heads, particularly when it came to attacking the opponents' half. Like Algeria, they failed to score in the tournament. Any Positives? the Hondurans can take some comfort from the fact that they kept all three of their games close.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

"Mai Così Brutta"*

Well, that went very poorly. My man Gattuso played the first half, and did what he could, but despite an exciting conclusion to the game, one never really got the feeling that Italy were going to pull it out. Big changes coming to the Italian national team, and not all of them are going to be voluntary.

Full congratulations, though, to Slovakia.

Anyway, to take all our minds off it, here's some vuvuzela-related hilarity:

*"Never [before] so ugly." - The headline in La Repubblica, referring to the overall performance of the Azzurri.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

More World Cuppity Thoughts

It's either that, or blog about Pat Quinn, and I'm not dead sure what I've got to say about that just yet. Anyway, to the thoughts, at the beginning of the final set of round-robin games:

  • From the "Hoist on Your Own Petard" files, we have the situation in which the Ivory Coast finds itself. It's simple actually - the Ivorians need to beat North Korea in their last match, and they need Brazil to beat Portugal. Furthermore, the combined margin of victory in those two games must be at least 9. In other words, it would be really nice for the Ivory Coast if Brazil could score a boatload of goals. Unfortunately, Brazil will play Portugal without Kaka, one of their top offensive talents. Why? Because he picked up a red card in Brazil's last match, which was against, you guessed it, Ivory Coast, and is thus suspended. And how did he get this red card? Well, he bumped, lightly, into an Ivorian player, who promptly went down as though he'd been shotgunned in the face, and the referee swallowed the act hook, line, and sinker. And so, in a weird way, justice will be served if the Ivorians go out of the World Cup because Brazil had a player suspended.

  • It's actually been a dismal tournament for the African teams. As of right now, the six teams from the host continent have played 14 games, in which their collective record is as follows: 2 wins, 4 draws, 8 losses. South Africa, Nigeria, and Cameroon are already eliminated, and it's quite likely that the Ivory Coast and Algeria will join them. And, while Ghana are currently atop their group, their last match, against Germany, will be their most difficult, and qualification for the next round is by no means assured.

  • Italy have been stumbling. An acceptable opening-match draw against Paraguay was followed up by an unacceptable one against New Zealand. However, all is not lost; a win in their final game, against Slovakia, will see the Azzurri through whatever else happens, and even another draw will suffice if Paraguay can beat New Zealand. Time, methinks, to get Gennaro Gattuso in there (yes, I'm biased). It's true that he's getting on a bit (in fact, this tournament will be his last go-round in international soccer), but he won't be outworked, and his ability to wreak havoc in midfield should give the Slovakians pause for thought.

That's all for now! There'll be more at the end of the round-robin.

Friday, June 18, 2010

World Cuppity Thoughts

And here we are, one-and-a-half rounds of matches into the World Cup. Some observations:

  • As you're no doubt aware, one of the features of this world cup has been the omnipresent high-pitched nasal drone of the foreign press complaining about vuvuzelas. Even the usually enjoyable Rick Reilly has stepped up to the plate (ooh, mixed sports metaphor!) on that front, producing what must be the silliest thing he's ever written (I think it's supposed to be funny. It fails). Anyway, FIFA boss Sepp Blatter got it absolutely right when, in response to calls to ban the horns, he pointed out that an African world cup was supposed to sound and feel different.

  • Speaking of the feel of the world cup, did anybody realize (and I certainly didn't) that holding it in South Africa meant that it would be the first world cup played in the cold? I've seen a couple of matches in which the temperature was right around the freezing mark.

  • At some point, the US will win a world cup. From what I have seen so far in this year's tournament, it's going to be sooner rather than later.

  • It's been, obviously, a rough tournament for goalkeepers. England, Algeria, Paraguay, and Nigeria have all lost points due to bad goals. Throw in injuries to Italy's Gigi Buffon and the US's Tim Howard, and... well, eek.

  • For some reason, I think the match that I've enjoyed most has been Brazil versus North Korea. Brazil deserved to win, and did, but North Korea definitely deserved to take something out of the match, and duly got a late goal to make things interesting. Well played all 'round.

More thoughts as this thing progresses!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Couple of Pics

So, some time ago I promised you Saskatoon pics, so here you are! If you can't tell, I'd been playing with the "panorama" feature on the camera again.

Here's a look at the Saskatoon skyline from the place we were inhabiting for the weekend:

On the way back home, we made a quick stop at a little site about which I will write more later, and I took these photos there. And there you basically have eastern Alberta.

As always, click to make big!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Roll Out The Red Carpet!

It's once again time to hand out the Scalies - the De Koboldorum Rebus awards given to our beloved Edmonton Oilers for services rendered during the hockey season just past! I tell ya, one of these years they're going to make the playoffs, and then it's going to be really hard to pick these. In the meantime, not so much.

Team MVP: I have, over the course of the last couple of months, heard and read a number of people performing variations on the theme of "if you had told me in September that the Oilers would finish dead last by a mile but nobody would be mad at Dustin Penner (pictured above), I would have laughed." The man's eerie similarities to Frank Mahovlich have been noted elsewhere, and this year we got to see the "thunderous power-forward" side of that equation, as opposed to the "guy in the coach's doghouse" side of previous years. Despite a mid-season slump, Penner became the second Oiler, after Wayne Gretzky, to lead the team in goals, assists, points, and +/- over a season, and although it must be said that he didn't have much competition, that's still pretty impressive. So yeah, this one's Penner's.

Best Rookie: , I think. While Dubnyk, in the way that rookie goaltenders do, probably contributed more than his share to the graying of his coach, there were nonetheless very promising signs towards the end of the season. He even managed to get himself an admittedly odd call-up to Team Canada for the World Championships, although he didn't see any action. The Oilers will probably have to decide between him and Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers this summer at some point, and the general consensus that I'm seeing is that they'll go with Dubnyk. The fact that he's 6'6" doesn't hurt him at all.

Most Under-Rated Player: It was Shawn Horcoff, my goodness. Yes, he had a terrible year. Yes, his +/- was one of the worst in the entire league. Yes, he's overpaid. But he was likely playing hurt, he's one of the few guys on the Oil who can reliably take a faceoff, he's by all accounts a classy guy, and his work ethic is legendary (this last is an important consideration given the large number of young guys likely to be kicking around training camp this fall). In a just world, Horcoff would be a shoo-in as the next Oilers' Captain. However, this is not a just world; this is a world where Shawn Horcoff was booed this past season by his own fans after picking up assists.

Most Improved Player: After some pondering, I think this one has to go to Gilbert Brule. The Blue-Jackets made him the poster boy for guys brought into the league too young, and this was past year was his first chance to really turn things around. He took advantage of it, with goal and point totals that were by far career bests. There's some question, of course, as to the role of luck in this renaissance (Brule's shooting percentage was suspiciously high), and thus as to whether he can keep it up, but in the meantime it was a nice job by the young man.

And thus another year of Scalies comes to a close. And now, we wish to take you back to a brighter time, the time of "a few games into the 2009-2010 NHL season," when the Oilers were more-or-less healthy, and did not despair even when down 4-1 in the second period. Watch, and enjoy (you can especially enjoy Penner's drive to the net at the 2:00 mark of the video. Remind yourself that that's an NHL defenceman trying to stop him. Even though Penner didn't score on the play, it's still impressive - truly Mahovlichian, in fact).


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Breaking: Blind Squirrel Finds Acorn!

Ok, maybe not really "breaking," so much, since this story is a few days old, but to make an 8-years-long story short, Alberta finally got around to putting the grizzly bear on the Threatened List. Now we wait to see if the gov will in fact follow through, and start taking the necessary steps (restricting access, etc.) to actually protect the grizzly population. At least, in the meatime, the bears can't be hunted.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Some Nefertiti Pictures

...because this is the internet, where cat pictures are de rigeur! Also because she's a cute cat.

Nefertiti in a box:

Nefertiti, ready for her close-up: