Thursday, June 15, 2006

Grab Bag: The Wide World Of Sports

This has little to do with ABC, the thrill of victory, or the agony of defeat. Rather, it's a quick update on what's been happening in sports these past few days.

You wouldn't know it from reading from this site (though you would from monitoring the Nielsen ratings in the States), but there are a lot of things happening in sports besides the Stanley Cup Finals. With that in mind, here are some comments on the most recent developments:

The World Cup of Soccer
I've spent far more time than I should have watching the games, aided this week by an illness that has left me stuck at home all week, save for attending this event and making a shopping trip to West Edmonton Mall yesterday morning. Here are a few thoughts on the teams, based on what I've seen to date:

The Good
Germany - They have enough offense to compete, and their defense has been rock solid (at least one, if not both of the Costa Rican goals should have been flagged as offside). Though they needed a goal in injury time to win, they looked much better than this year's disappointing Polish club. Whoever finishes second in Group B is going to have a difficult time getting past this club.

Italy - It pains me to say it, but diving aside, this Italian club looks strong. The azzurri are always strong defensively, but against Ghana on Monday afternoon, they showed an uncharacteristic offensive flair. Though it only netted one goal that wasn't attributable to a defensive blunder, they were consistently attacking and willing to take chances on offense. I almost enjoyed watching them.

Brazil - They played their game, and won. Nothing spectacular, just your standard Brazilian futbol.

South Korea - I only saw the second half of their game with Togo, but they absolutely owned their opponent for 45 minutes. I've been told that Togo outplayed them in the first half (they did take a 1-0 lead into the break), but if that's the case, I will nonetheless give them credit for making adjustments, and rallying from a deficit. I wouldn't count on another trip to the semi-finals but they'll be a difficult opponent throughout the tournament.

(To get my biases out of the way, I cheer for (in order of precedence) England, then the United States, then South Korea. They're small, skilled, and fast - like the Buffalo Sabres on grass. My least favorite team is Italy, since they dive and whine to the refs far too much. Everyone else falls somewhere in between, though I tend to cheer for the Asian and African teams to pull off the upset when the English or the Americans aren't involved).

The Bad
France - They didn't do much during the bits of their game with the Swiss that I caught, and for the fourth straight World Cup contest, failed to score. Plus, one World Cup preview likened striker Thierry Henry to ARod (for his tendency to disappear in big games). That has to hurt.

Poland - They hung around against Germany, but there was never a moment where I felt like they were going to win the game. While Ecuador's looking good, the Poles were completely outclassed. Another disappointing turn to follow up on 2002's dud of a team. You have to feel for their fans, they didn't do anything to deserve this.

The Ugly
Team USA - Ugh. That's all I can say. And sigh. If they don't go 0-3, I'll be shocked.

The Unknown
Spain - I didn't see their 4-0 shellacking of the Ukraine, so I don't know if this is a case of the Ukranians laying a pysanka, or if this is a Spanish team that might actually live up to its billing for a change.

England - Yes, they're 2-0, but they have been maddeningly inconsistent. They played well for the first half against Paraguay, then fell apart, and struggled for the final 45. Against Trinidad this morning, they controlled the play, but needed two late goals to manage the win. Even though he scored the go ahead goal, Peter Crouch has been terrible. His goal today was the first time he actually used his size to go up and get the ball; most of the time, he's been pushing off and then chirping to the refs. I was ready to write more about his lackluster play, but that goal has bought him a grace period of one more game, as far as I'm concerned. That being said, I still don't know if this English team is for real or not. I could see them beating the Swedes, then Ecuador to advance to the Quarterfinals, or I could see them getting smoked by the Swedes, then eliminated by the Germans.

As an aside, if there are any unemployed or self-employed Edmontonians who feel like making a trip to the Elephant & Castle on Whyte Avenue for the England-Sweden game this Tuesday morning, let me know.

As a second aside, I've been getting most of my online coverage from The Guardian and The BBC. As for coverage on this side of the Atlantic, CBC has an excellent live tracker, and I am quite enjoying Sportszilla's daily coverage.

If Only The 2004 Red Sox Had Tried This Idea....
The minor league Schaumburg Flyers (no relation to this Schaumberg) have decided to let fans manage the team. This is either going to turn out as a poor publicity stunt, or will be a Cosby-esque 'lesson' to the fans about responsibility and the difficulties of actually managing a club.

The U.S. Open is this weekend, coming to us live from the Winged Foot Golf Club in New York. It's also notable because it marks Tiger Woods' return to the tour after a two-month layoff that followed the death of his father. Tiger is still shaking off the rust, as evidence by his +6 score for the day. That score looks worse than it is, as only Colin Montgomerie managed to come in under par.

I normally don't watch the Thursday-Friday of golf tournaments for the same reason that I don't normally watch NHL games before the all-star break. While they count in the standings, and are technically speaking just as important as the games late in the season, they seem so far removed from the final result that they don't feel like they mean anything. That's how I feel about golf tournaments prior to the cut. I had the US Open on my TV today, but I couldn't bring myself to pay close attention. That may change tomorrow, however, with Tiger on the bubble.

If I had to pick a winner, I'd go with Mike Weir (and Fred Funk finishing second), though I think that Tiger and Stewart Cink will both make a big move tomorrow.

Party In The City Where The Heat Is On...
Following a miraculous comeback to steal Game 3, the Heat dominated the Mavs from the opening tip tonight, and evened the series at 2. The Mavs are too good of a team to not rebound from this, so I think that the pressure is still on Miami for Game 5. They need to take that game, since I can't see them winning back-to-back games in Dallas. While the focus has been on Antoine Walker as the supporting player who Miami needed to step up, James Posey is having himself quite a nice little series as well. He could be the key to sweeping the home part of this series.

I'm Baaack
Michael Jordan has returned to the NBA, this time as part owner of the Charlotte Bobcats. This is apparently part of Robert Johnson's master plan to field a team made up entirely of North Carolina Tar Heels.

Alberta Baseball Confederacy
For our readers who have missed the open thread this haven't missed much. My team still sucks badly, and I'm a week or two away from throwing in the towel on 2006 and holding a fire sale with an eye to 2007. The bidding for Andruw Jones starts at one keeper-quality player and a first round draft pick.

And An Oilers Comment, For Posterity
On PTI yesterday, Wilbon pimped the Oilers (apparently he's a hockey fan), and predicted they'd win Game 5. Well done, sir.

And while I'm here, I stand by the case for Robbie Shremp to be put in the lineup for Game 6. Aside from the shift where Hemsky scored, the Oilers' power play sucked hard all night. Something has to be done, or we might not be so lucky next game.


At 10:51 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

Way to go out on a limb and throw your support behind Jim Dinning. Murphy would be proud.

At 12:20 AM, Blogger DR said...

The huge Spanish win was in no small part thanks to a ridiculous red card against a Ukrainian defender just minutes into the second half.

It was 2-0 at that point, but after they scored from the spot, the Spaniards toyed with Ukraine's 10 remaining men.

You're right about England. At this stage, an early exit against Ecuador looks about right.

At 2:36 AM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

I am very excited to see that Ecuador/Germany game. Would anyone have predicted a 2nd place Group Ranking from the Germans even a week ago? It is a distinct possibility now.


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