of the four teams remaining in the world cup, the only team i predicted or expected are germany. i thought italy would self-destruct in the quarters, france was too old, and that portugal as usual would have the talent but not have enough heart to get this far (and frankly, they got a gift that the dutch played shoddily and that england had no offense besides rooney after owen was injured...when rooney took the red card, england were done). so surprise, surprise....there's the final four.
while in egypt and morocco i did take some time to watch matches. at first i thought that was nutty...being on vacation and that i should be seeing stuff. then i realized...i was on vacation. that meant doing stuff to make me happy. and with the games starting at 6pm and 10pm in egypt and 3pm and 7pm in morocco, it actually turned out to be good timing in terms of a break after a day full of sightseeing and other activities.
with plenty of locals and tourists stopping to watch the games at cafes, it was a great communal activity where you could communicate with the guy at the next table even if you didn't speak a common language besides the game. i watched the england-sweden match at the british community association in cairo, amidst a lively crowd of mostly brits, with more than a few swedes present as well.
the highlights of the tournament so far:
* france playing with more heart than any other team among the final 32. they were counted out as old and slow and fighting with each other. but they've played as a group and zidane's return to form has been awesome to watch. yes, they benefitted from brazil's "defense" inexplicably leaving thierry henry open to score, but good teams take advantage of mistakes.
* the germany-argentina match -- for 120 minutes (90 regular and 30 extra time) it was generally a tense and thrilling match. it only really opened up after the argies scored in the 49th minute. all of a sudden the argies realized that they should keep attacking. unfortunately their coach thought he should sit on the lead and sub his offense for plodding defensive midfielders, especially considering that it was the starting argentina midfield that were totally controlling the match. no matter, as the excitement continued. of course, one defensive mistake was all it took, and when sorin let klose go by for position on the header to tie..well...also, i wasn't shocked that the argies would lose if the game went to penalty kicks. i'd seen it happen before, in the 2004 copa libertadores final between boca juniors (of Buenos Aires) and columbia's once caldas. the heavily-favored bocas made *no* penalty shots. none. that is truly remarkable at that professional level of play.
* ghana -- they played a fun if sloppy style, forgetting to defend sometimes, playing a bit too rough at others, and being a bit awestruck against brazil, watching too much and not playing enough. but we've seen this before from african teams, recently cameroon and nigeria. we haven't seen these teams sustain it over the years...they flash into the news for one or maybe two cups, then fall apart. i watched their game against brazil in fes, amidst a cafe full of men cheering on the ghanians. i guess the former french colonies of west africa want to stick together.
* the us-italy match -- the only one of the us games worth watching, it was thrilling, especially watching the americans control play despite being down a man for the 2nd half. well, control things until they clearly ran out of gas. then they were just trying to hold on for the draw, which they did.
lowlights and disapointments:
* the u.s. play in general -- they played horribly against the czechs and not well enough against ghana. low delivery on high, maybe too high, expectations.
* the portugal-netherlands match -- the ref lost control of the game early on, and tried to regain it by handing out a record number of yellow and red cards. the players couldn't control themselves, and what could have been a fun match between two teams that play exciting offensive-minded soccer was reduced to a rugby scrum. all involved should be ashamed.
* the switzerland-ukraine match -- an awful, boring game, in which the ukes clearly played for a tie and hoped to win on penalties, which they did. the kind of soccer game that makes people hate soccer.
my heart says the germany and france will win the semis and france will win the final. my head says germany and portugal to play for the title, and the host germans taking it.