Wednesday, June 21, 2006

jmglov Fails to Impress

Remember a couple of days back, when I made some (rash) predictions about the outcome of last night's games? Yeah... not so right about that stuff.

I said that Germany would beat Ecuador 2-1. Germany did in fact win, but 3-0.

I said that England would beat Sweden 1-0. The actual result was a 2-2 draw.

These outcomes definitely force me to take another look at my knockout stage predictions.

I picked Germany to play Sweden, and England to play Ecuador, both of which happened. That is about as far as my predictions will hold, I think.

I had Germany beating Sweden 3-0, but after the way the Swedes played in the second half against England, I have confidence in them getting a goal against the tight German defence. And the Germans are not going to find the kind of space against Sweden that Ecuador was happy to yield, so shave a goal from them. Final score? 2-1, Germany.

England finally discovered their offence against Sweden. They may have lost Michael Owen, but frankly, he has not made much of an impact thus far anyway. I do not think he will be missed against Ecuador. Ecuador, on the other hand, looked hopelessly outclassed by Germany. They could not find the German goal at all, and I don't think the going will be any easier against England's top defenders. So let me go way back on my initial statement and revise it to 2-0 England.

Other predictions? Argentina, baby. Semifinals at least.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Maradona, Part II

And to think I was about to blog about something other than the World Cup. Yes, I was sitting here on the floor while Lyani flipped through the TV channels, getting ready to blog about our move and so on, when what to my wondering eyes should appear than a story on Diego Maradona. Specifically, a story making fun of Diego Maradona. Needless to say, I had to watch that.

Apparently, Maradona was pulled over by the German police for speeding, en route back to his hotel after Argentina's win over Serbia on Friday. Heh heh. The best headline I found with Google News was this one:

"Maradona's Joy Proves Short-Lived"

Also, the Japanese show had some great footage of Maradona waving his towel and yelling like crazy to support his team, then stopping for a minute to say some nasty things to a younger guy in an Argentina jersey who was sitting in front of him, then go right back to celebrating. Classic.

Sorry for making fun of your countryman, Mauro, but you have to admit that Maradona is a bit much these days. :)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Mad about Football

Then again, the Japanese may just be mad.

World Cup fever has led to the following silliness on Japanese television (in order of increasing incredulity provoked):

  • Countless tarento with magnetic models of football pitches, sliding around magnetic likenesses of Japan's "star" players to represent possible formations.

  • The highlights of the Japan-Croatia and Japan-Brazil matches. Before they happened. Simulated by the tarento playing Winning Eleven against each other. Needless to say, in their "simulations", Japan won both matches. Also needless to say, Japan did not and will not win either.

  • The international robotic World Cup (or some such), in which teams of 30 cm tall robots play football. Awesome! Needless to say, a technical university from Osaka beat a German university rather handily in the finals.

The only thing missing was a match between two anime all-stars teams. Can you imagine, Gundams, Evas, and Patlabors one one side, Kenshin, Hokuto no Ken, and Howl on the other. Sugei!

McHeartAttack, the .JP Way

Tamago Double MacWe briefly interrupt our World Cup coverage to bring you the following Public Service Announcement:

McDonald's Japan has brought back the best fast-food sandwich in the history of the universe, the Tamago Double Mac (with cheese). This sandwich is a celebration of cholesterol: two "beef" patties, topped with a huge Egg McMuffin-style slab of egg, bacon, cheese, and Big Mac sauce.

But it is here for a limited time only (last year, it was the Sandwich of the Month for October), so git yer keister over to the Golden Arches!

I'm lovin' it.

Elementary (Arithmetic), My Dear Watson

Is what it will take to see the US into the next round now.

To get down to brass tacks, we must beat Ghana, and one of the following things must happen (in order of descending likelihood):

  1. Italy beat Czech, or

  2. Czech beat Italy by at least three goals, and we beat Ghana by at least three goals, or

  3. Czech and Italy draw, and we beat Ghana by at least six goals.

In the former case, the final Group E table sees Italy well clear at the top, with seven points, followed by the US, with four points, and Czech and Ghana with three. Easy to see what happens here: Italy and the US go through as the top two finishers in the group.

In the second case, we get into the somewhat arcane magick of goal differential. Which is actually not that arcane, as my example will show. Here's what happens:

  • Czech beat Italy 3-0

  • US beat Ghana 3-0

This leaves Czech clear at the top of the group with six points, but Italy and the US tied in second place with four points each. How to break the tie? Simple: just add up all of the goals scored for and against both teams. Before the final match, Italy had three goals for and one against, a differential of +2, while the US had one goal for and four against, for a total of -3. After the final, add no goals to Italy's differential and subtract three, leaving them with -1. But add three to the US's differential and subtract none, and you get +0. So the US moves on.

So the best strategy for the US is to beat Ghana by a metric shit-tonne of goals. That way, even if Italy cannot beat Czech, we still might be through on differential. Still, six goals more than Ghana scores is a tall order, so we'd better all don our Italy jerseys on Thursday.

Japan's road through to the next round is similar in terms of mathematics, but worlds different in terms of difficulty. For they must beat defending world champions Brazil , and they must do it by two more goals than the difference between Croatia and Australia if Croatia wins, or three more goals if Australia wins. Take a look at the current Group F standings to see what I mean.

If Japan can beat Brazil by four or five goals (since the slimmest margin of victory for either Australia or Croatia is one goal), they certainly deserve their place in the second round.

Chances of the US going through? 75%, since both the US and Italy are likely to win, thus making all my talk of goal differential a moot point.

Chances of Japan going through? 1%, since nobody beats Brazil by four or five goals.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Don't Cry for Me, Maradona

Three words can sum up Argentina's performance last night: Oh. My. God!

If you didn't happen to catch it, you missed the biggest blowout of the World Cup thus far, as Argentina fed a steady diet of uppercuts to an increasingly punch-drunk Serbia and Montenegro until the referee stopped the fight. Too bad football does not have TKOs!

To quit the boxing metaphor, what I actually mean is that Argentina won 6-0. And against a Serbian side that looked pretty decent in qualifying, and held their own against the Netherlands in their first match of this World Cup. Argentina deserved to win, given the football seminar that they put on. It was textbook stuff: precision passing, nifty dribbling, great delivery, and best of all, deadly finishing. Against a weaker side, Argentina probably would have been good for another few goals, as well as they were playing.

Maxi Rodriguez picked up a brace to join the 10-way tie for the Golden Shoe, but for me, the most exciting player in the match was easily Lionel Messi, the talented 19 year old who joined the game in the 75th minute. He looked explosive the first time he touched the ball, driving past two Serbian defenders just outside the penalty box, before laying off for a give-and-go that his teammate could unfortunately not connect. Just two minutes later, he beat the defence down at the end line, drove into the goal area, and then put the ball right onto Hernan Crespo's foot for an easy goal. But he was not to be held to just an assist, as he slammed home a goal of his own in the 88th minute.

I cannot wait to see more of this amazing player. Of course, I might have to wait until the next round to do so, depending on how badly Argentina wants to beat the Netherlands--the two meet in Group C's final match on Wednesday. They may not want to risk an injury to Messi, and thus use him sparingly, even if it means a loss to the Dutch. All Argentina needs is a draw, which would leave both teams at seven points, but Argentina waaaay ahead on goal differential. A 6-nil result does wonders for goal differential, no? :) But I were managing Argentina, I would not chase Holland if they go up on a late goal, as a loss would simply mean finishing second in the group. And since there is not much difference between Mexico and Portugal, who are currently leading Group D, I don't think it matters who they face in the first game of the second stage. Also, finishing second in their group would put Argentina in the same bracket as England, a side with whom they have quite the historical grudge. That is, of course, assuming England gets past Ecuador, in clear violation of my predictions.

In any case, I will predict that Argentina has no trouble with whoever they face first in the next round.

Getting back to the game itself, it would have been sheer joy to watch, had it not been for one annoying factor, namely that the referee, a certain Robero Rosetti, apparently had his head lodged in his arse for most of the match. I have not seen so many fouls given in a long time: 14 called against Argentina, and an unbelievable 22 against the hapless Serbians. Oh yeah, and add to that three yellow cards and a red card to Serbia, and a yellow to Argentina just to maintain the illusion of impartiality. He called numerous fouls on Serbian players for challenging the ball, which I thought was kind of their job, when their opponents have possession. I mean, it is one thing to tackle from behind, or come in late, but it is another entirely to slide for the ball while the attacker is trying to run onto it. The latter is just good defending, but apparently not in the mind of Mr. Rosetti.

The sending off of Mateja Kezman in the 65 minute was especially egregious. The challenge that caught the referee's one good eye (OK, so he was not really wearing an eye-patch, but can you imagine a pirate referee?!) appeared to be completely legitimate in the replays. OK, call it a foul if you must, but even a yellow card would have been ridiculous in the situation. A red card was just unbelievable.

I certainly hope that Rosetti does not get another match at this or any World Cup. The game would certainly be better off if he never officiated over another football match in his entire life.

But other than that, very entertaining football indeed. Hope you were watching, Mauro!

England Fails to Impress

England may have been the second team (after Germany) to qualify for the second stage of the World Cup, but they have not impressed me much, and I predict that unless they start generating some goals, they are going to crash out of this tournament before the semis. Hell, they have a good chance, in my opinion, of being beaten by Germany or Ecuador, in the very first match of the second stage.

Allow me to explain. England pretty much has a lock on Group B, as they face second-place Sweden for their final match of the group stage, and they are going to get at least a point (I am predicting that a draw will be the worst result for England against the Swedes, who frankly have not looked at all impressive this go 'round). As winners of Broup B, England will face the runner-up from Group A, which will be determined when Germany and Ecuador meet on Tuesday. Ecuador actually leads the group on goal differential (5 GF, 0 GA versus 5 GF, 2 GA for ze Germans), so if Germany wants the group, they need to do better than a draw against Ecuador. And Germany definitely wants to win the group, since that would put them up against Sweden in their first match of the second stage, not England. And even though I think England is due for a rude awakening, they are certainly a much stronger side than is Sweden.

So here's what I see happening: Germany beats Ecuador 2-1 on Tuesday. England beats Sweden 1-0 (I don't see the English getting past their offensive woes against the Swedish defence, which has not conceded a goal yet, but I don't see the Swedish attack, which has only generated one goal so far, overcoming England's touch defensive backs).

Germany beats Sweden 3-0 in their first match of the second stage, while Ecuador beats England 1-1 in penalties in their first match.

And these are the gutsy, unpopular predictions that you can only get here. So dig in, folks.

Oh yeah, and let me just close in saying that I hope I am wrong about England, as I really like their team. Maybe Wayne Rooney will be the magic bullet that fixes their offence. But I doubt it.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Spanish Bombs

On the Costa Leipzig. I'm flying on a DC 10 tonight, fueled by Corona, la cerveza mas fina. (Unravel that one, ya bastards!)

I am quasi-live blogging this whilst watching the Spain vs. Ukraine match (and by quasi-live, I mean I am composing this entry in vim on my laptop, which is currently not connected to the Net, thanks to the 80 cm ethernet cable that Leopalace provided), and I can say that this match, only 23 minutes old at this point, is already easily the best match that I have seen thus far in this World Cup. Spain is up 2-0 (thanks to a header by Xabi Alonso in the 13th minute, followed by a spot kick from David Villa that deflected off one of the Ukranians in the wall), which makes me very happy (I love Spain's football team, though it is not one of the four teams I am passionate about: Bulgaria, Ireland, Japan, and the US, for the record), but what makes the match great is that both sides are playing fantastic, beautiful football. In fact, I just had to stop typing for a minute while Spain mounted two great assaults on the Ukrainian goal (both unfortunately unsuccessful).

Lots of precise passing, lots of skillful runs off the ball to get in position, and great ball control: that's what I am talking about when I say beautiful football. Oh yeah, and Andriy Shevchenko's presence on the field. Even though I am hoping that he remains shackled today (as he has been thus far, even being goaded into committing a foul of frustration after being dispossesed by a cool Spanish defender), the man is one of the greatest strikers in the game today, and has long been a favourite of mine, since his days with AC Milan.

Of course--speaking of great strikers who I have long idolised--Raul is noticably absent from the Spanish side of the pitch. I know that he has been less effective at Real Madrid than usual during the past two years, but he is still Spain's leading goalscorer, and I would like to see him get the chance to add a few more notches to his heavily-scarred belt during this campaign. With any luck, we'll see him subbed in towards the beginning of the second half.

I know that Spain historically disappoints in the World Cup, despite being pregnant with offensive menace and tight defensively, and I know that this year, they are lighter on the talent than ever, and Raul is not at his best. I know all of this, but seeing how Spain is dominating this match against a very worthy opponent indeed, I am reassured about their chances. The second round is a lock after the three points which they are almost sure to take home tonight. Mark my words (and you may call that the second of my predictions series)!

At minute 40, the Ukranian players are showing more than a little frustration. They'd better settle down, as the last thing they need at this point is a bunch of players who are inelegible for the next match due to a yellow card awarded here. One has already been given, to Andriy Rusol in the 17th minute, and Andriy Voronin deserved one just not, with a brutal challenge from the ground at the back of a Spanish attacker's legs.

Speaking of Voronin, he just tested Iker Casillas thoroughly, with a well-timed run into the area. Casillas was up to the challenge, coming off his line quickly to smother what could have been a real chance. Of course, he was called offside to boot, but the replay clearly showed that the call was mistaken. Shevchenko, on the other hand, was well offside a minute later, which makes his tally for the match about four, by my count.

Real chance for Spain again, with David Villa dribbling deep into the area, half a step ahead of his marker! But the Ukranian defender just got in the way enough to get a piece of David Villa's shot, allowing Oleksandr Shovkovskyi, the Ukraine keeper, to collect the ball safely.

The first half has just ended, so I'll post this as a Blogger draft.

Live blogging now!

Minute 48: David Villa now has a brace after a smartly taken penalty kick. Spain 3-0! The penalty seemed a bit frivolous, however, and Vladyslav Vashchuk certainly did not deserve to be sent off with a red card, but that is what he got.

Minute 51: Villa almost finished a hat trick, but his shot was turned away by Shovkovskyi, and the rebound finally collected without further damage.

Minute 52: Another yellow card for the Ukraine, this time shown to Vladimir Yezerskyi.

Minute 55: Raul is in for David Villa! What did I say earlier about chances of seeing Raul early in the second half? Who is prophetic, now? :) As happy as I am about seeing Raul, it is a shame that Villa had to go off without another shot at his hat trick (which would have put him at the top of the list for the Golden Shoe).

Minute 60: Raul tests Shovkovskyi from 25 metres, then Voronin misses left by centimetres on a quick counterattack.

Minute 65: Spain has a free kick from 30 metres, but it is weakly taken and deflects wide. Nothing doing from the resulting corner kick for Spain.

Minute 67: Raul puts a vicious header on goal, but Shovkovskyi is equal to it. Damn!

Minute 72: Spain is rushing a few passes, leading to a good buildup by the Ukraine, but Serhiy Rebrov launches the ball about 100 metres over the bar from five metres in front of the goal.

Minute 73: Great pass from Raul sets up Sergio Ramos deep in the area, just to the right of the goal, but he cannot finish.

Minute 75: Ukraine wins a corner, gets a shot from 18 metres, but Casillas is his usual awesome self and gathers the shot without breaking a sweat.

Minute 76: Shevchenko is lucky not to be shown a yellow card for a dangerous play, namely a face-level kick at the ball, which a Spanish player happened to be in the process of playing with his head.

Minute 78: Spain is still trying to force passes. Why? They are up 3-0, so they should be taking their time to build up, like they did early in the match. Come on, guys, I want to see Raul get a goal. Make it happen!

Minute 81: Fernando Torres gets a goal on a brilliant play that starts with Carlos Puyol taking the ball off a Ukrainian player, executing a sweet spin move to avoid two Ukrainian defenders, passing the ball off for a give-and-go, and then feeding Torres the assist. Spain 4-0!

Minute 86: Shevchenko squirts a weak shot at Casillas, who handles it, then sets up a quick counter by Spain, which finishes with Fernando Torres feeding the ball in just a step ahead of Raul, who cannot beat the keeper to it. Come on, F.T., put the ball in Raul's stride and we'll have a fifth goal!

Minute 88: Wasted corner for Spain. We want a Raul goal! We want a Raul goal! Say it with me! We want a Raul goal!

Minute 89: Voronin goes up for a high ball waaaay outside the area against Casillas (what are you doing, Iker?!), wins the ball, gets behind Casillas, and somehow fails to get off a shot before he is dispossessed by a defender. Ukraine wastes the corner kick, of course.

Minute 91: Shevchenko offside again!

Minute 92: Shevchenko finally beats the offside trap, makes three Spanish defenders look rather foolish, forgets to shot, and then finally has his late shot blocked by a defender who recovers.

The match is over, Spain wins 4-0! Hurrah!

With Spain taking full points from this match, they move to the top of a very weak Group H. I'll go out on a limb and say that as long as Spain does not self-destruct, they have a real chance at making the final four this time! And they are long overdue for a good run in the World Cup. Viva Espana!

Predictions, Part I

I hate to go with the pack on this one, but I pick Brazil to win the Cup, despite their less than impressive performance against Croatia yesterday. I mean come on, with players like Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Cafu, and Kaka (hee hee), how can they not be favoured?

My dark horse prediction may startle some of you, given the tough group they drew, but I pick Australia as the underdog that could actually take the World Cup trophy home with them when it is all said and done. The quality of Mark Viduka and Tim Cahill is evident, but Australia's biggest weapon is their coach, that nasty Dutchman that I love to hate, Guus Hiddink. The guy is brilliant, and he somehow wrings performances out of teams under his iron fist that are well above and beyond what the team should be capable of; to wit: Korea in the 2002 World Cup.

I have spoken. There may yet be egg on my face, but if my predictions hold any water at all, at least they will be recorded here for me to brag about later! :)

Amateur Hour (and a Half)

In which I continue my ill-advised mouthing off about the 2006 World Cup, despite knowing next to nothing about The Beautiful Game.

After watching (South) Korea and Togo struggle through 90 minutes of football last night, I find myself a little less critical of Japan's performance against Australia. To put it mildly, both teams sucked. For the first 25 minutes of play, I don't think either side put together more than three passes in a row, and no-one could manage to hold onto the ball when challenged. I have not seen Togo before, so I did not know what to expect from them, but the Korean side was a far cry from the confident team that took the world by storm in 2002. True, they were in front of a home crowd then, but I think the real difference was Guus Hiddink's presence on the sidelines. I dislike the man (he seems arrogant to me, I dunno), but I think he is one of the greatest coaches in recent history.

The Koreans did not show exceptional pace, nor ball-handling skills, nor teamwork. And they took more dives than Jacques Cousteau. I hate few things in football more than a dive, and even more frustrating was the fact that the official left his yellow card in his pocket, even when he saw a dive and failed to award a foul to Korea. And one of the times he did produce the yellow card was to show it to Jean-Paul Abalo in the 53rd minute to punish Togo's captain for a "tackle" which the replay showed pretty clearly to have made no contact with the Korean player. Not that you would know that from the way the Korean theatrically launched himself pitchward, rolling around and clutching his ankle in "pain". This was Abalo's second yellow card, which to you non-football-savvy readers means that a red card was immediately shown, and Abalo was ejected from the match in the 53rd minute, leaving Togo with 10 men to face Korea's full complement of 11. If that is not adding insult to injury, I don't know what is.

Despite the sloppy demonstration, Togo did manage to feed a good long ball to forward Mohamed Kader, who outran his marker and then beat the keeper from 16 metres with a well-placed shot. This took place in the 31st minute, giving Togo a 1-0 lead that they managed to hang onto for the rest of the first half and nearly 10 minutes of the second, before conceding a free kick just outside their goal area in the 54th minute. Chun Soo Lee took the spot kick and curved the ball neatly up over the wall and just past the lunging keeper and into the back of the net to equalise. The spot kick was well-taken, but I am pretty sure that a real goalkeeper could have kept it out. At least the foul was legitimate, and not another lovely display of thesbian skill by the Koreans.

The goal that put Korea ahead, however, was an excellent shot, from none other that 2002 Korea-Japan hero Jung Hwan Ahn. It came in the 72nd minute, from a couple of metres outside of the area, and was struck with pace and precision, leaving Togo's keeper with little option other than to watch it into the goal.

Korea deserved the win, but the aggregate level of skill on display was on par with a kickabout in the park, not a World Cup match. Too bad Japan did not find themselves in Group G, where they would have steamrolled the bush-league competition offered by these two teams.

Speaking of which, in my previous entry, I hope I did not come across as dismissive of Australia's performance. Australia played extremely well, and certainly deserved the win. I was just frustrated that Japan, which actually played reasonably well for at least 80 minutes of the match, could not generate any real offence, despite having enough raw talent on their team to make a real impact in the tournament.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The World Cup is Over

For Japan, anyway. And maybe the US as well.

Sometimes I don't know why I bother being a sports fan. It seems like all I get for my fervent support of my favoured teams is a broken heart, again and again. Last night was a case in point, as I saw Japan get all but eliminated from the World Cup by Australia, and then found that the US had been thoroughly out-classed by the Czech Republic.

I can't talk about the US match, since I did not get to see it (it aired at 01:00, a full hour after the Japan match ended, and I just could not stay awake that long), but I can give you my thoughts on Japan's miserable performance.

Let me start by saying that there was a whole lot of optimism here in Japan yesterday. And why not? Japan has a talented, young side, and they are not missing any key players due to injury. But I was slightly more skeptical than most fans, because I had yet to see Japan demonstrate that their biggest problem had been solved: the lack of any real coherence, especially in the attacking half. And that was what sunk Japan last night.

Australia came out of the gate looking strong, and put together attack after attack, with some skillful passing and great ball control. The first 15 minutes looked very bad indeed for Japan, as the Aussies had most of the ball and looked the more dangerous side. Japan, on the other hand, put together little mini-attacks where one player would dash towards the opponent's goal with the ball, do a bit of decent dribbling, and then pass off to someone else. The problem was that a third player never seemed to be in good position to receive a pass for a real threat on goal.

Japan's defence tightened up a bit, and Australia looked like they were slowing down a bit, so I could relax a bit when they touched the ball, now that the fear that they would score every time they got possession was alleviated somewhat.

In the 26th minute, Shunsuke Nakamura got a fluke goal when he crossed the ball into the area, and the Australian keeper got tangled up with four other players in the goal mouth (two Japanese, two Aussie) and knocked down, allowing Nakamura's cross to float into the back of the net. Sure, in the World Cup, a goal is a goal, and I was mighty happy to get this one, but at the same time, it was not proof positive that the Japanese could score quality goals against strong opposition. And neither was the rest of the first half. While Australia looked practically tame for the remainder of the half, Japan couldn't add a second goal. Same story: decent individual play from the strikers and midfielders in Australia's half, but no solid teamwork of the sort that is required to score goals at the highest level of competitive football.

The second half showed Australia re-committed to the task of scoring goals, and Kawaguchi, the Japanese goalkeeper, was tested time and time again. And was he ever equal to the task! He is credited with six saves in the official statistics, but it seemed like more than that watching the match. Twice, it seemed like Australia was certain to score, but Kawaguchi stretched himself full-length and somehow got a hand to the ball to push it wide of the goal. That should have been great news for Japan; usually when the keeper makes a great save, it energises the team. But Japan still could not put anything together in the attacking half. Other than one screaming shot by Takahara which the Australian goalkeeper was equal to, Japan did not generate any convincing threats on goal.

And that was the writing on the wall, because when one team is threatening constantly, and the other is not, it is just a matter of time before the more dangerous side gets a goal. And when Tim Cahill, Australia's most potent striker, entered the game as a substitute in the 69th minute, the time was nigh. It took Cahill about ten minutes to really warm up, but his presence put even more stress on the overworked Japanese defence, which had barely held against Mark Viduka's excellent play at the front throughout the match. Australia's first goal came in the 84th minute, when Kawaguchi made his second full-length stretching save and a Japanese defender cleared the ball out over the sideline. Australia made a long throw just to the left of the goal, and maybe two metres into the area. This was when Kawaguchi made his one mistake of the match, charging out to intercept the throw, but not getting enough of a fist on the ball to clear it from the area. The ball squirted sideways, and looked for a split second to be shielded by a fallen Japanese defender, before Cahill stepped around him and calmly put the ball in the back of the net.

And if only that were the end of the scoring! I was pissed off enough at being robbed of three points, and having to settle for one point from the draw, but my mood became blacker and blacker in the next five minutes, as Japan continued to disappoint on the attack while Australia seemed to get stronger and stronger. At some point during those five minutes, I realised that Australia was almost certainly going to get another goal. I just hoped that Kawaguchi could find some way to keep denying the go-ahead score. And maybe he could have, if his defenders hadn't completely forgotten how to play.

In the 89th minute, Cahill was left unmarked at the top of the goal area, and he made no mistake from 20 metres to seal the deal for Australia. I pretty much knew that the game was over then, as Japan was incapable of scoring, so John Aloisi's goal in the second minute of stoppage time was just adding insult to injury. And it was a pretty insulting goal, so badly did he beat a Japanese defender at the top of the area before slotting it home confidently from 10 metres or so. Luckily for Japan, that was all the scoring Australia had time for, with the final whistle putting a merciful end to the bloodbath.

Cahill was named Man of the Match, and rightly so. I had to tip my hat to Guus Hiddink, Australia's coach, for deciding to rest Cahill for most of the match, then substitute him in late in the match. Had it not been for his fresh legs, Japan may have been able to hold on for the win, in which case Kawaguchi would have certainly deserved the Man of the Match honours.

The reason that this loss pretty much spells the end of Japan's World Cup campaign is the makeup of the rest of their group: Brazil and Croatia. For Japan to even have a chance of going through to the next round, they will need to beat one of the two and at least draw with the other. Which is not going to happen, because you are not going to hold Brazil to less than two goals, I don't think, and Japan is certainly not going to generate more than one goal a game. At least, not unless they take their defeat at the hands of Australia as a wake-up call and really gel as a team up front, which is very unlikely at this late hour.

I think some of the fault has to lie with Zico, the Brazilian who is coaching Japan, for not building a real attack. Then again, maybe the fault lies more with the people responsible for hiring Zico, as Brazilians are sort of known for great individual skill at the front yielding goals, instead of a dynamic team effort. And sorry to say it, but Japan does not have a Pele, or a Ronaldo, or a Ronaldinho, who can just create goals out of thin air.

As for the US, well, like I said, I did not see the match, so I have no real thoughts on what the US team needs to do to avoid being spectators in the next round, but I will say that they have their work cut out for them. They absolutely must beat Ghana, and then they need some sort of result against Italy, preferably a win.

Ugh. I should just move to Brazil or something, and learn to love the New York Yankees of football. At least I would not be disappointed every World Cup when my teams let me down. At least the US and Japan qualified, unlike Bulgaria and Ireland, my two other favourite teams.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Reading is FUNdamental

Of late, I have been oft availing myself of the privileges granted me by my Yokohama City Library card, to wit: borrowing of books.

The Central Library's English fiction collection takes up a whole two shelves, and much of the books on these shelves are what Lyani called "airport books". "You know," she said, "there is 'elevator music' and there are 'airport books': the sort of crap novels that you buy only out of sheer desparation in the airport." Surprisingly to me, over half of the books seem to also be by Canadian authors. Not that I have anything against Canadian authors, I just do not know many of them.

In any case, allow me to share with you three books that really impressed me, in ascending order of excellence:

Shoeless Joe"Shoeless Joe", by W.P. Kinsella. If you like baseball, you will love this book. The movie "Field of Dreams" is based on it, but the book is better by far (and I actually like the movie quite a bit--say what you will about Kevin Costner, he is pretty decent in baseball movies). There is something magical about baseball, and Kinsella weaves this magic effortlessly into a story that is somehow greater than the sum of its parts: namely Iowa, love, corn farming, the infamous Chicago "Black Sox", and reclusive American author J.D. Salinger. Oh yeah, and if you have never heard of Tinkers to Evers to Chance, this book will rectify that sad state of affairs.

Speaking of baseball, I am watching an interleague game between the Chunichi Dragons and the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. It is 5-1 Chunichi going into the top of the fifth, after a fiesty two-out rally in the bottom of the forth by Rakuten. Jose Fernandez stroked a solo homer, then the next batter executed a perfect bunt down the third baseline and ran it out for a single. This was followed by a two-out seeing-eye single to put men on the corners, setting the stage for the catcher. Tragically, he hits like a catcher, and managed to got down swinging on four pitches. Well, that's baseball, as they say.

A Sunday at the Pool in KigaliGetting back to the printed word, be sure to read Gil Courtemanche's "A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali" (speaking of Canadian authors). I am pretty sure that it was an inspiration for "Hotel Rwanda", though it tells the story from a different perspective than the movie. It is a strangely uplifting tale, given its setting (AIDS-ravaged Rwanda) and plot (genocide most foul). Which is not to say that it is not incredibly sad--it certainly is--but it shows how the human spirit can somehow survive even in the worst conditions. In case you were wondering, this book is a fictionalised account of a real historical tragedy. Just be warned that this book is not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach: the subject matter is quite explicit, and the author presents it realistically.

The Time Traveler's WifeAnd finally, my favourite out of all the books I have recently read, Audrey Niffenegger's "The Time Traveler's Wife". I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is the story of a man who is "chronologically challenged"--he literally cannot remain in the present when he experiences strong emotions--and the woman who loves him. The premise seems rather unbelievable, and perhaps lifted from Vonnegut's caustic "Slaughterhouse-Five", but it turns out to be neither, and extremely imaginative to boot. If someone were to ask me to explain what "literary fiction" is, I would refer them directly to this novel. It is not a quasi-story wrapped in pretentious prose; it is a wonderful story told by a master of the English language, each perfectly-chosen word building towards a flawless sentence. It is a joy to read as much for the language as for the story itself, and that is saying a lot, for the bittersweet tale of love in the face of great difficulty alone makes the book almost impossible to close, even for the five minutes it takes to walk from the Keihin Tohoku Line platform to the Keiyo Line platform.

Premature Nostalgia

The weather forecast says, "16...22 C, partly cloudy", but that is really no way to describe a day like today. Today is a glorious spring day, the sort of day every Sunday should turn out to be.

Lyani and I went out for breakfast, to a pancake restaurant that was rumoured to exist somewhere in the vicinity of Motomachi. We tried unsuccessfully last weekend to find it, but operating on the instructions we were given ("between Kannai and Ishikawa-cho stations, near Isezaki") proved futile. This morning, however, just as we were giving up hope of finding the place, it came into view contemporaneously with the sole landmark contained in our new directions. Angels sang a heavenly chorus, etc.

We rolled in, had a huge American-style breakfast, and had to be rolled out of the restaurant afterwards. Then it was time for a jaunt around the corner to drop Lyani off at one of the myriad entrances to Motomachi-Chukagai Station (on the Minato Mirai Line). She had to go into Tokyo to help a friend pick out a wedding dress.

I, on the other hand, had no plans whatsoever, so I decided to stroll down Motomachi on my way home. I stopped in the Starbucks at the top of Motomachi to procure a cup of honjitsu no kouhii (short size), and then made my way leisurely down the crowded shopping street, smiling at the antics of children and pets as they frolicked in the sunlight.

I'm sure going to miss living here. Moving from downtown Yokohama to the outer suburbs of Tokyo is going to be quite a change.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Moving on... up?

Well, at least we are headed for the East Side, anyway. Of Tokyo, that is.

If you have read any of the sporadic effusions of foppery most vile that pass for entries in this here blog, you will know that I have a certain propensity for bitching and moaning about my commute. Poor me, etc. So it will come as no surprise that I live a life of intense longing for that elusive apartment closer to my work.

Luckily for my sanity, the aforementioned apartment was really not as elusive as I had feared. Lyani and I went up to Shinjuku a month or so back, had a nice chat with a man about a dog (and by this I mean, a real-estate agent about an apartment), and decided on a place that very same day. It is a tiny little shoebox of an apartment, but the location is terrific: a ten minute walk from Maihama Station on the Keiyo Line. Maihama Station is important for two reasons, namely that it happens to be right next to Tokyo Disneyland, and that it is two stops from Ichikawa Shiohama Station, which is noted only for its proximity to the Amazon Japan FC, which contains, amongst other exiting things, my very own cubicle.

Next weekend is the big date for the move, so you may reasonably assume that after that, I will never complain again about anything, and will go through my life as the most positive person ever to draw breath, letting the aggregate idiocy of humanity roll off my back like so many water droplets (off a duck's back, natch). All right, enough snickering from the peanut gallery! I am sure I'll find something to complain about, just not the commute, or the attendant issues such as the behaviour of my fellow commuters in Tokyo Station.

Moving on to issues of more meteorological import, the weather has finally become nice: sun, temperatures in the low 20s. Which means we have like a week of spring to look forward to before the rainy season begins. After three weeks of solid rain, we will be unceremoniously dumped, kicking and screaming, into the Japanese summer, which is something like living in a pressure cooker for several months. But for now, the spring weather is pleasant, and has allowed me to take advantage of the dress code at work. Or rather, the lack of a dress code at work. Heh heh, Japan is not ready for the gleam of the sun striking my magnificently white legs, bare from the knee down, thanks to my shorts. Yeah, that's right, my fellow office workers! I'm chilling at my desk in shorts and a tee shirt, which you are all sweating in your suits or looking like tools in your Dockers.

And I'm out.