Friday, June 23, 2006

Team of the Group Stage

Tonight we present The Electric Zarko Top Eleven All-Star Team from the Group Stage. This is mainly a chance to take a look at players who did well without having their team advance, as they are unlikely to wind up in the end of the tournament All-Star team, which will hopefully be a roundtable affair.

The formation being used is a 4-4-2 with wingers and two central mids, one primarily defensive, the other primarily offensive. One objective that I will stick to is making the team as utilitarian as possible, unlike many All-Star teams that would be run off the pitch by a lesser-talented and more balanced side.

Keeper - Shaka Hislop (TRI) Hislop was instrumental in Trinidad & Tobago's first two games, where he stoned Sweden and England for 173+ minutes. Even more amazing was that Hislop wasn't supposed to start, only being selected for the match after Kelvin Jack suffered an injury in the pre-match warmups. Also Considered: Pascal Zuberbuehler (SUI)

Left fullback - Philip Lahm (GER) Instrumental in the first two games for Germany, Philip Lahm has had an excellent cup overall, including what is probably the finest opening goal in the history of the tournament. Adept at getting forward, Lahm has also been a defensive stalwart, combining well with Bastian Schwienstieger in midfield. Also Considered: Neicer Reasco (ECU), Arthur Boka (CIV), Mariano Pernia (ARG)

Right fullback - Hatem Trabelsi (TUN) The major offensive threat for Tunisia even while operating from the back line, it was a common sight to see Trabelsi bombing down the wing towards the opposition area while still getting back to break up attacks. By far the best player for Tunisia. Also Considered: Willy Sagnol (FRA), Luis Miguel (POR)

Center half (2) - John Terry (ENG), Philippe Senderos (SUI) Senderos makes it for his composure in defence and aerial threat on set pieces on offense. Unfortunately he injured his shoulder in the final match of the group stage and may miss out on the rest of the Cup. Terry made yet another goalline clearance against T&T and was generally solid, except for the final game against Sweden, which we're going to glame entirely on Rio Ferdinand and Sol Campbell. Also Considered: Geovanny Espinoza (ECU), Dennis Lawrence (TRI), Rafael Marquez (MEX), Kolo Toure (CIV), Lucas Neil (AUS)

Defensive mid - Yaya Toure (CIV) "The Next Viera" doesn't seem like so much of an overstatement once you've seen him operate from deep in midfield. A truly dangerous two-way midfielder, Y. Toure even seems to be better than Viera in certain areas, such as shooting at distance. Rumored to be headed to Manchester United post-Cup. Also Considered: Javier Mascherano (ARG), Michael Essien (GHA)

Right Wing - Edison Mendez (ECU) Mendez has been one of the most crucial players for one of the surprise sides in this World Cup. Operating from either flank and sometimes from the middle of the field, he is another true two-way player, complete with a crunching tackle and a stinging shot. Supposedly being sought after by several Spanish teams. Also Considered: Maxi Rodriguez (ARG), Clint Dempsey (USA)

Left Wing - Arjen Robben (NED) The best player for the Dutch and one of the best players in the competition, Robben had the game of the tournament against Serbia and Montenego. Fast, a dangerous dribber and a decent finisher, Robben has been the engine for the Dutch offense so far. Also Considered: Sully Muntari (GHA), Luis Valencia (ECU)

Attacking Mid - Tim Cahill (AUS) Cahill was the main figure in the most important match of the Cup for Australia, the 3-1 victory over Japan where Cahill's appearance from the bench sparked a comeback, including a Cahill volley that hit both posts before crossing the line. A bit of a tough guy, Cahill has made a career out of showing up at the right place at the right time. Also Considered: Xabi Alonso (ESP), Walter Centeno (CSR), Didier Zokora (CIV), Stephen Appiah (GHA), Park Ji Sung (KOR)

Support Forward - Javier Saviola (ARG) "El Conejito" was the best player on the field for the fluid Argentinian team and was as comfortable setting up others as he was finishing himself. Although small, Saviola has used his speed and touch to great effect thus far, to the point where he appears to have relegated Carlos Tevez and Leo Messi to the bench, no small feat. Also Considered: Aruna Dindane (CIV), Luis Garcia (ESP)

Striker - Miroslav Klose (GER) Klose makes a habit of cleaning up on weaker opposition and this Group Stage was no different. An excellent all-around striker, Klose needs to show his ability to finish against top-level opposition before he becomes a world-class forward. Also Considered: Fernando Torres (ESP), Hernan Crespo (ARG), Carlos "Demolition Man" Tenorio (ECU)

[picture at top of article]

Coach: Guus Hiddink (AUS) A further confirmation of his coaching ability, Australia's advancement to the second round was a testament for Hiddink's keen sense of squad management, made most clear in his use of substitutions. Bruce Arena, are you writing this down? Also Considered: Leo Beenhakker (TRI), Kobi Kuhn (SWI)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Your New York Knickerbotchers

Perhaps you should heed your own advice, Isiah.

Isiah Thomas, for my money, is the worst NBA general manager of all-time. Now he is set to become (again) the worst coach/GM of all time. He has replaced saved Larry Brown his dignity.

This shouldn't come as a huge shock. In fact, for shock value it's kind of like having a friend that you just know is gay and should come out of the closet, and then he does, and you say to yourself, "Wow! I knew it, I just knew it, but... WOW!" Isiah Thomas is that gay man.

So, you might ask yourself, what exactly has Mr. Thomas done for the Knicks that they want him to have the two most important jobs on an NBA franchise? Lest you forget, he gave up a fantastically great trade commodity in Anfernee "I'm Worth About a Penny" Hardaway and his "Worth Quite a Few Pennies" contract for a suffocatingly, debilitatingly overpaid, overrated tweener of a head-case (Stevie "McDonald's Franchise"), who has proved that he doesn't have the chops to win at practically any level (I won't speak for his high school career).

In fact, Stevie's still trying to make his long-distance relationship with Cuttino Mobley last.

By the way, that move (made last year around the trade deadline), is what HoopsHype calls Isiah's best transaction as Knick GM. Best.

Okay, so what's his worst, according to HoopsHype? Signing Jerome James last offseason. You remember Jerome James - inflated center, played for the Sonics, in the playoffs had one decent, Dampier-esque game versus the Spurs, got tons of undeserved money in a contract tied up by one Isiah Thomas? Ring a bell? Yep, THAT Jerome James.

I, for the record, have not held office in any NBA front office, but when you have a hall-of-fame coach, you should really give him more than a year to piece things together into a winning formula - especially with the talent the Knicks have.

I will give this to Isiah, during last year's draft, he did alright. Well, he would have done alright if he had the slots on the roster for those guys.

Channing Frye - Center? Nope. At best I would call him a 4/5. You know, kind of like Eddy Curry or Malik Rose?

Nate Robinson - He sure is fun to watch isn't he? Too bad he's a shooting guard in a tiny point guard's body and plays kind of like Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis - at least he fills THAT need, they DEFINITELY didn't have THAT covered.

David Lee - I like him, he hustles, and in fact, he might have been one of the brightest guys for the Knicks' future... if he could see the court behind Jalen Rose, Quentin Richardson, Jamal Crawford, and Qyntel Woods.

Speaking of Qyntel Woods... Need I say more?

Remember when the Knicks had hustle players? Players like Nazr Mohammed and Kurt Thomas - they're gone now, have been for a year or so. You know what the genius got for them? Malik Rose and Quentin Richardson.

You don't want me to get started on Quentin either. He and his head-bopping kin Darius Miles can go double up Brandy for all I care.

Knicks payroll last season : $123 million.

Sure, Isiah inherited a lot of that loot, but he's been with the Knicks since 2003 and hasn't made a dent in it (kind of like certain presidents with the National Debt). So one would think that since the average contract is probably 3-years, that in 2006 this number would be drastically better.

Knicks probable payroll this coming season: $125 million +.

Heckuva job, and one heckuva good reason to give this guy the coaching reins. After all, it's pretty much "fact" that he gets along with everyone (cough, Michael Jordan, cough, Larry Bird, cough, Rosco, cough) so he shouldn't have ONE problem dealing with the super-inflated egos on the Knicks roster. Not ONE problem - you heard it here first (ahem).

But... Do you want to know why this REALLY pisses me off? Because the Knicks will be as badas last year, if not worse (put the smart money on worse), the Knickerbockers will continue to compete with the Trail Blazers for worst record, and hence the best chance at squeezing out the number 1 pick, and likely Greg Oden with it. And, since it's New York, home of the NBA HQ, they WILL get the number one pick (and with it Greg Oden), because the NBA is rigged (don't fine me, Mr. Stern).

Greg Oden. And then, Isiah will somehow look like a genius.

Isiah Thomas: "You're fired, Larry."
Larry Brown: "Fantastic, I'm already packed!"

A New Swiss Chalet for Mr. Merk

Monday, June 19, 2006

NBA Draft Growing Pains

I'm conflicted.

The draft is just over a week away, and I, as a Blazers fan, cannot decide between two players to draft. I know what you might say - you'd say, "Rosco, you're not the GM of the Blazers, you don't get to make that decision."

Yeah? Well, screw you!

The way I see it, the Blazers I am in the sitcom-cliché situation of having two dates on the same night. Now while this usually unfolds with hilarious circumstances to the audience, I have a dating reputation to uphold. So, stop laughing.

So as the night goes on, and I have taken fancy boy #1, Brandon Roy, to dinner and a movie, and I really start to "feel" his personality, I start to prefer him over Adam Morrison. I weigh the pros and cons. He's a better teammate, he plays decent defense, he has good "back to the basket game," and he put his jacket over that puddle for me. He's sweet.

But, then, after the movie, I call it a short night with Brandon so that I can meet with fancy boy #2, Adam Morrison. We go out dancing at a late-night club, doing basically a facsmilie of the rumpshaker, and guess what happens? I forget about old Brandon Roy, who is now sitting at home gabbing with his friends over his date with me the Blazers. Adam Morrison is fun and outgoing. He may not have all the qualities to look for, but he's exciting. That and he totally kicked this guy's ass when he spilled a drink on me. Broke his nose, and some other things - I think he's in traction now.

I go home exhausted and swirling with thoughts of the dates, unable to choose one over the other. After a full night's rest, it gets even worse. Who am I to choose? I mean, we only have ONE draft pick in the top five. If only we had two, we could have both! We could have both! Ah, but idle dreaming comes crashing to a close - we only have one. We can only have one.

All my girlfriends are telling my Roy is the solid choice. He's an upstanding fellow with few faults, but I can't help but keep thinking of Adam Morrison and that concussion he gave that guy...

What is a girl guy to do?

Of course, like any good sitcom (or, for that matter, a really, awfully, horrible one) the ruse has to be discovered, and both dates dump the protagonist (you had better believe that I am the protagonist, haters). Leaving me coldly in the rain, quietly sobbing to myself, I try to figure out what went wrong. Of course, I don't learn any sort of lesson, and I jump straight into a relationship with...

...LaMarcus Aldridge.

Oh, LaMarcus. He'll treat me right.

That'll get the show through another week before I am up to more crazy shenanigans.

But, knowing the Blazers and how much they love to F'in piss me off, they'll probably just draft that jerk Tyrus Thomas. Sons-of-bitches.

Either that, or those two non-teams - Toronto and Charlotte (they still don't belong in the NBA, posers) will select both my boys.

And I would really HATE to have to put together a "hit list" that might include Michael Jordan. But, Mike, you'll have to understand - you would have brought this on yourself.

So stay tuned until draft day. Until then, I'll still be conflicted*.

*after draft day, I will be steadfast with my decision that the Blazers made the worst pick ever.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Separated at Birth? (World Cup Edition)

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Soccer

First, for those of you who prefer other sports: that's nice. Now shut the hell up. Yes, soccer fans are frequently annoying. Yes, the French don't have Big Gulps. This doesn't mean that you have to constantly whine about how awful soccer is or how better the sport you prefer is. It makes you just as bad as the socceristas that drive you nuts in the first place. In summary: not liking soccer is fine. Constantly talking about how (much) you dislike soccer is chump-style.

Second, I'm going to skip over the rules portion of the sport. There are plenty of places that you can read about it, including Wikipedia. Don't worry if you don't get the offside rule at first. As you can see from many of the replays during the World Cup, most of the assistant referees still haven't mastered it.

Many people who can't watch or dislike soccer identify the lack of scoring as the main problem, as if the sport exists in an unwatchable state unless the ball is entering into the goal. The most typical comment is that "nothing is happening".

This is almost always complete horseshit. There's usually something happening, it's just not regarded as "significant" if it doesn't immediately lead to scoring by someone who doesn't have anything else to to hang their hat on. Now, the most basic aspect of soccer is space. For the team who has the ball, the object is to move the ball (and hence the players) into space, as the more space a player has, the more time he has.

The best players can do wonderous things when given space (see: Gerrard's goal yesterday versus Trinidad & Tobago) and can operate in tight spaces as though they were in the open field (see: Ronaldinho).

So the object for the defensive team has to be to restrict space, to allow the offensive team to play the ball to a position where it will become easier for the defense to recover the ball and reverse the roles.

There are several basic strategies on both sides of the ball. I'll use the England - Trinidad & Tobago game as an example, because the strategies being used were fairly simplistic.



Without the ball: On defense, T&T allowed the English players to have time on the ball, so far as they were more than 30 yards away from their goal. Within that 30 yards (or the "defensive third", as it is known), the T&T players would move quickly to close down the player with the ball (i.e. get close to him) and would force play toward the sides of the field. There were also quite happy to simply play the ball out of bounds rather than attempt to retain possession in 50-50 situations (situations so named because there is a supposedly equal chance for either team to come away with possession).

With the ball: T&T's offensive strategy consisted mainly of getting the ball quickly to the player closest to the English goal, who would then attempt to advance the ball as fast as he could into the offensive third. Two or three other T&T players would join in and the object would be to try and generate a scoring chance before the English could get players back towards their goal.


Without the ball: Although it's hard to say exactly what England's strategy was on defense since they had the ball the majority of the match, they showed a tendency to pressure the player with the ball, regardless of where the player was on the field, hoping to force the T&T players into making a mistake and gifting England possession.

With the ball: England's main strategy when faced with the extreme defensive tactics of the T&T squad was to play the ball out to the wings (which is where they were being given space) and then either play the ball into the box with a cross (which is how they eventually scored) or to advance the ball and either attempt to cut the ball inside toward the goal or run into space toward the endline for a more advanced cross. When there was not space to either advance the ball or cross it, England would play the ball back to the defenders, who would then pass to the other wing, the idea being that forcing the defense to change positions would cause some of them to make mistakes, opening up space for an attack.


The combination of these two strategies created one of the classic soccer matchups, the team playing the possession game, switching the field, etc. versus the counter-attacking team, happy to bunker in front of the goal and try their luck on some fast-breaks.

The strategies of both teams were of course affected by the strategy of the other team as well as by the formations used by both. For example, if England was denying space for the ground-based breakout passes when T&T had the ball by playing further back (and thus giving more time to the player with the ball), T&T may have resorted to the "long-ball" (or "Route One football" if you're British ("Drillo-ball" if you're Norwegian)) tactic of hitting the ball through the air towards the opposition's goal in the hope that luck or a single good play will result in an opening.

And when England made their substitutions at the end of the game in their desperation for a goal, they brought on a wide midfielder for a defender, changing their formation from the classic English 4-4-2 (four defenders, four midfielders, two forwards) to something that more closely resembled a 2-6-2, moving up their wing defenders into the midfield, as T&T wasn't attacking that space anyway.

As you get more and more into the complexity of strategy and formation, the understanding of the back and forth of the game is increased and usually, the enjoyment of watching a game.

This is not to say that there aren't boring soccer games. There are! Immensely boring games in fact, just like every other damn sport out there. I'm sorry, I really don't think that a 10-7 meaningless game between the Browns and the Ravens or a 2-0 game between the Diamondbacks and the Royals is really that much more exciting than the stereotypical 0-0 draw in soccer. If it's a bad game, it's a bad game and there's nothing wrong with deciding you'd rather do something else.

Like, say, write a post on a sports blog. About sports. Shit, somebody please score.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

World Cup Panda-Mania-Onium!

Is it to late to write a preview of the World Cup? Fine, F you guys.

We here at the Middle Foam Finger have already covered previewing the World Cup, thanks to our own Electric Zarko (ah, those group previews were electric indeed). But, I feel, I can interject my own retro-pre-non-view of the World Cup to come.

You see folks, we're only like an eighth of the way through this bad boy, and I've already lost a lot of sleep, and I'm not seeing any Z-time coming up anytime soon (n)either.

Now if only those douchebags England and France can bow out of the tourney, I will be extremely delighted and declare these the best World Cup games of all time! Germany, douchy as they may be, can stay until the second round when the geniuses in "Oranje" give the Deutches a Total Voetbal kick to the Scheisse-factory straight back to Mönchengladbach.

Okay, now onto the Magazine-y looking headers with not-so-interesting information underneath. And there'll be pictures, so you know, less reading:

The GOAL of the World Cup (so far)

Tim Cahill (Australia)

Tim Cahill's second goal of the match (and Australia's second goal EVER in World Cup history) sealed Australia's first ever victory in the World Cup. But, most importantly, it made me jump out of my seat and yell "Oy! A corker!"

Guus Hiddink - genius. Where does he hail from, you might ask? It's fate.

The Oranje win the cup.

Douche of the World Cup

Frank Lampard (England)

Okay, he hasn't necessarily done anything douchy, but knowing this guy's history, I would keep my eye open around this maniac with a head full of hay. He is the one player in the tournament I might want to make sure doesn't have a shiv hiding in his shin guard.

The Oranje win the cup.

Look Out For...

David Villa and Spain

Okay, I am not about to make any sort of American pro-sports team reference to Spain and their inability to "win the big one" (cough, Cubs, cough), but they (alongside Holland) have put out some of the best sides (sides, for you non-soccer, er, football, guys, side = roster. You see, a long time ago, a bunch of British people invented the sport, and they came up with fancy (read: pompous) names for everything, including side, pitch, touchline, and dive) this side of Brazil only never to win the Copa Mundial. But they looked pretty good during their first match and they still haven't played to their potential. But, Spain, if you do, please make it be against Argentina (they'll flop all the way back to Buenos Aires).

David Villa put on a spectacular show and is an immediate threat to win the Golden Boot (see earlier about fancy English words). He also has a soul patch, so if he decides to retire from his footy action, he could easily find a place in the Oakland A's rotation.


The Oranje win the cup.

You Gotta Root For...

Anyone and Everyone (but especially de Nederlandsen)

Find a team and go with it, even the douchestastic teams have shown some on-the-pitch flair, and really it's anyone's tournament at this point (except the US, they're cooked).

Oh, but don't root for England. Case in point: this is the toughest they can look....

...and that's sad.

The Oranje win the cup.

Final Prediction: (This totally goes against my World Cup Bracket, but that's hosed anyways)

Nederlands 3 - 1 España

(There IS finally a final worth watching)

Monday, June 12, 2006

Step Off, Bitches

It's Arjen's tournament, f-bags! Just give us the damn trophy.

I don't give a rat's ass if Brazil hasn't taken to the damn pitch yet - you snooze, you lose.

Hup Oranje!

Saturday, June 10, 2006


I can't even imagine what it's like to be an actual England fan. The sight of all that talent moldering out there on the pitch like a dog's discarded breakfast must drive them insane. Well, more insane.

For those who didn't bother to wake up for today's early early World Cup game, England just walked out with a "gritty" (see: nearly unwatchable game) victory over Paraguay, courtesy of an own goal.

Although Paraguay should get credit for constantly fouling, time-wasting and generally being cunts; England never managed to get anything going short of when they were playing Joe Cole behind a lone striker, which he did for roughly 10 minutes before being substituted for everyone's favorite England sub, Owen Hargreaves.

One wonders what the mental process was for Sven Goran Eriksson in that case. "Hmmm, Joe Cole is the only player looks remotely dangerous with the ball at his feet and he's creating a bunch of chances at the position to which I recently moved him. Plus Crouch, Lampard and Gerrard are all noticably limping and haven't really done much lately. Let's take Cole out."

Actually, the Hargreaves substitution wasn't as bone-headed as it appeared. The England midfield had been screaming out for some sort of holding midfielder/pivot man for most of the game, as neither Gerrard or Lampard are capable of playing that role and as a result, England couldn't hold possession and frequently resorted to hopeless long-balls out of the back.

The most frustrating thing has to be that it's been shown, repeatedly, that Gerrard and Lampard as a combination in the middle of the field works only on paper. In practice, both players are too similar to really work together. In their club teams, they each have a defensive presence to hold down the space behind them (Makalele in the case of Chelsea, Hamman/Sissoko in the case of Liverpool) and link-up players in front of them (Cole/Robben/Duff and Luis Garcia/Cisse).

The England line-up has neither, meaning that two central gaps are created, between the midfield and the defense and between the midfield and the forwards. Meaning that you see a lot of balls played from the central defenders to the fullback to the winger back to the fullback back to the defender then bashed aimlessly upfield repeat 100 billion times until you want to stab your eyes out with a smashed Bass Ale.

Of course, Eriksson will never go to the obvious solution of dropping one of Lampard/Gerrard and putting a player like Hargreaves or Carrick into the lineup to play the role that Frings plays for Germany. Alternately, he could return to his experiment with the 4-5-1 and play only Crouch or Owen. Considering how ineffective they were today, it doesn't seem like much of a penalty.

Ideally, I would play a similar formation to that used by Chelsea, with the same back 4, Hargreaves/Carrck, Gerrard and Lampard in central midfield, then Cole and Rooney playing free/wing roles behind Owen. This would necessitate dropping David Beckham, perhaps the most tactically inflexible player for any of the major soccer powers, something that will never happen.

The most worrying part of the whole affair is that it fits perfectly into Eriksson's motif as manager of the England team: play well at the start, grab an early goal, retreat into your defensive third for the rest of the game and allow the other team time on the ball rather than killing the game off. Super.

So, in short, England should be good enough to get out of the group and then get crushed by a team of lesser talent after they resort to booting the ball upfield and letting the other team run at them.

Or lose on penalties.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

World Cup Preview - Group H

As we count down toward the World Cup Opening match on June 9th, The Middle Foam Finger will be offering capsule previews of each of the World Cup groups, one group per day.

Group H

Saudi Arabia

Spain should be offering up their thanks to the football gods right about now. Not even the Most Underachieving Team in World Football could manage not to advance from this group. I think.

Like always, Spain has an impressive array of talent at all positions, with the most overwhelming amount of class being in central midfield, where they can choose between Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas, Alberto Iniesta and David Albeda. Their defense is a little more questionable than you would imagine from looking at the players involved, as both Carlos Puyol and Michel Salgado are prone to the odd howler.

The presumed inclusion of Raul in the starting lineup is a real sticky wicket for the Spanish. On one hand, he has been the public face of the national team and Real Madrid for a long time. On the other hand, the 28-year-old hasn't had many good performances in the past two years and there are many whispers that his time is past, especially with the talents of David Villa and Fernando Torres available.

Tunisia is the settled side of African soccer in this World Cup, having made it to their third consecutive finals. Although they have not advanced past the group stage thus far, they have a good chance now, having been placed into one of the weaker groups.

Their chances will also be buoyed by their playing style, which puts an emphasis on staying compact and putting defense first. Even the two naturalized Brazilians that turn out for Tunisia are fairly dour. Without too many big names (right back Trabelsi being the biggest), Tunisia will depend on graft and opportunism in order to advance.

Saudi Arabia are trying to do their best to make people forget about their last world cup, where they were absolutely thrashed by Germany along with two other defeats. The problem last time around was that they didn't have the physical players to match up with the strength and quickness of the larger nations. This shouldn't be a problem against Tunisia; however, both the Ukraine and Spain will provide excellent tests as to whether the Saudis have made any progress since '02.

If they have, they could well replicate their performance in 1994, where they went through to the knock-out rounds before bowing out in extra-time against eventual 3rd-place finishers Sweden. With all of their players based in their domestic league, they are another one of the wildcard teams in this Cup and their status is unlikely to be revealed until their second group match against the Ukraine.

Ukraine is another one of the teams making their first appearance in the finals and they did so with a suprisingly strong performance in qualification, beating out Denmark, Turkey and Switzerland to the first spot in what was probably the toughest European group, becoming the first European team to qualify.

It's impossible to talk about this side without talking about Andriy Shevchenko, one of the most prolific strikers of his generation who recently announced his move from AC Milan to Chelsea. Even if opponents concentrate on keeping the ball away from him, this opens up space for the rest of the team to operate in and while the Ukraine doesn't boast many other stars, they should be able to exploit the openings that having Sheva wreaking havoc will create.

The Ukraine always viewed themselves as the footballing region of the former Soviet Union and must be relishing the chance to show the world what they have to offer on the world stage. With a stable of solid performers around Sheva, they have a good chance of making it to the elimination rounds.

These Finals Suck!

Why I’ll Hardly Be Watching, But Rooting for the Heat Anyway.

I know, I know, it probably seems like all I do is write bitch about the NBA, but, well, actually, it’s true. But, see my angle – the college hoops season is over (Jim Calhoun will get his!).

So since all I do is hate on what really irks me about pro basketball (including my own team), I figure I’ll have a field day with this year’s NBA finals, including the two final teams, neither of which had the “Rosco Seal of Approval” entering the playoffs. And let me start by saying, I detest both teams in the Finals. But… I hate Miami a little less.

You know what’s really going to burn me about the eventual champ? That some of the following guys are going to get an NBA Championship Ring (with gold on it, and diamonds, and stickers):

Middle Foam Finger!

Antoine Walker
Isn’t enough that he has a college championship under his increasingly expanding belt? Do we have to give this mutant of a basketball player another reason to call himself a champion? I mean, at least at Kentucky, Pitino kept him in line a bit. He didn’t used to do that stupid shimmy dance after he hit his first three-pointer in four hundred attempts. See what hanging around Paul Pierce gets you?!?

Jason Terry
So this guy has a peanut for a head right? I mean, it doesn’t just look like a peanut – I think it IS a peanut. Have you seen the decisions this guy has made? He got kicked out of Atlanta. A-t-l-a-n-t-a! I don’t even think I have to mention his headband – it’s SPRING-loaded. That thing is going to shoot off his head and kill someone (you read it here first). I think he's too into punching people in the goobs. Pass the ball, asshole!

Keith Van Horn
I’m not as big a Van Horn-hater as most Americans seem to be. After all, he must be of Dutch descent. But, really, does this guy deserve an NBA ring? He deserves that as much as I deserve a kick in the pants – uh, scratch that.

Erick Dampier
Can this hack win an NBA Championship? He is four games away, which is pretty scary. The good part is that when he matches up against Shaq, his drawers will be “dampier” than a 13-day-old’s diaper.

Jason Williams
White Chocolate is the bitch of chocolates, which makes Jason “Wannabe Jay” Williams the bitch of NBA point guards. Get your street-hustling, non-committal, jack-‘em-up game outta here.

Jerry Stackhouse
He thinks he’s Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan thinks he’s a punk. I think I agree with MJ.

But, on the other side, kudos to any of these guys if they win:

Foam Thumbs Up!

Shaquille O’Neal
I only really care about Shaq because this would be the ultimate FU to Kobe. Come to think of it, can’t Shaq get a new tattoo that reads, “FUK?”

Udonis Haslem
He is perhaps my favorite player in the finals (because Podkolzin isn’t playing). He’s a tough workhorse and he doesn’t complain about minutes or touches – give this guy a ring for not being a douche. Also, he has a wicked arm and can fling his mouthpiece faster than Marcus Vick can sling his Glock.

Josh Howard and Dirk Nowitzki
The only Mavericks I can stand. These guys are real basketball players. Josh plays a lot of good defense here and there, but I like the both of them for their offensive tenacity and persistence. Also, they don’t punch people in the balls (that being said, can Portland sign Reggie Evans? We could use a good nob-jabber).

[Aside: 24/7 tried to make the point to me that Howard is the real leader of the Mavs, probably only to back up his “not really contradicting himself” rooting for the Mavs, but not wanting a Euro-led team to win the NBA championship. So in other words, it’s a good pile of bulls’ shit.]

Derek Anderson
I’m really only rooting for him because he’s an ex-Blazer. Since he donned the great uniform, he gets a Foam Thumbs Up from me. I mean, you can’t tell me Derek isn’t looking as debonair as possible in this picture. Look at the fit he’s got – all genuine class. Only one person made this jersey look bad – I won’t name names, but let’s just say he plays for the Nuggets now, and he’s about as talented as one of those spicy golden nuggets I drop in the toilet bowl each morning.

Michael Doleac
I admit that I have a soft spot for goofy looking white centers, and you could probably figure out on your own that my own biases for Mr. Doleac reside a lot in the fact that he calls P-Town home. He also went to Utah and was coached by Rick Majerus. And Rick Majerus is fat. And fat people are funny.

Avery Johnson
I really liked him as a player, but I am unsure of him as a coach. Obviously, he’s done a great job (kind of nice following Don Nelson, ain’t it?). But, he is part of the Mavericks, and that, my friends, is a giant no-no in my book (least favorite teams in the west: (1) Lakers, (2) Mavericks). But, on the bright side, he does have the biggest mouth in the entire universe – he’s got to be in the Guinness Book of World Records, he’s GOT to be. That thing could envelope an Airbus 380.

What to look for in these finals

Dwyane Wade burns everyone.
Mr. "I Have Two Moves But It Doesn’t Matter Because I Am Too Fast" shouldn’t have trouble beating even the Mav’s best defenders (Daniels, Howard). Just remember this, Dallas, if he goes left – pull up jumper. If he goes right – strong to the lane. But, all in all, it won’t matter, Dallas, but it’s good to know it anyways, so that when he does burn you, you can say to yourself, “Yep, that’s what he did alright, I’ll be.” Then you can scrape yourself off the floor.

Dirk scores 30 ppg.
This ought to be the Dirk show. Just like there won’t be any defending Wade, no one on the Heat roster will match up with Dirk and he’ll make impossible jumpers look routine. And since he’s German, he might shit on the Heat both figuratively and literally.

Shaq slaps Dampier.
All right, maybe we won’t see this, but wouldn’t it be great? I would love to see a Shaq-sized Ostertag slap on this bitch of an NBA center (the “best center in the West,” my ass).

NBA Finals Ennui

In short, ugh. These finals, while they should be pretty competitive, don’t have the luster to draw me in.

Considering it’s World Cup season, I think I’ll watch a good 30 minutes of the NBA finals. Mr. Stern you should have fixed the playoffs better!

Final Prediction: Heat in 6.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

World Cup Preview - Group G

As we count down toward the World Cup Opening match on June 9th, The Middle Foam Finger will be offering capsule previews of each of the World Cup groups, one group per day.

Group G
South Korea

Firstly, a Middle Foam Finger declaration of sympathy for France striker Djibril Cisse, who broke his leg today (the right one, after he destroyed his left one with a brutal double break last year in one of the literally sickest injuries ever seen), 2 days before the start of the World Cup. Regardless of what you think of the dude (and I have to say that I like his totally insane style), that's got to suck.

Of course, as Rosco pointed out, when your squad replacement is either Anelka or Ludovic Giuly, you can't feel too bad for the French. It's not like Cisse, as good as he can be when he's on song, was a focal point of their plans, considering that they have Henry and Trezeguet up top.

Looking at the team sheet, France should be one of the favorites to win the Cup. Yet, the lineup by itself is bereft of the context of the poor performances of the past 4 years and the fact that their qualification campaign was only rescued by the return of Makalele, Thuram and Zidane from retirement.

Zizou is emblematic of the squad, as he still has the technique and vision to compete; however, he doesn't seem comfortable tactically and it's obvious that he doesn't have the energy for 90 minutes of effort (in fact, it might be closer to 60). With a coach who doesn't seem to know what he's doing and a team that reflects this, France is a decent bet to make it out of the group stage and most likely little else.

Last go-round, South Korea made it all the way to the semi-finals on the strength of a super-fit team that specialized in pressuring from the top and forcing other teams into mistakes. In theory, this formula should work again. The only problems are:

- lack of homefield advantage
- unlikely to receive same amount of lucky calls (possibly related to above)
- a much much much much MUCH worse coach

Both of these are fairly major. It's been noted that just being on your home soil and surrounded by rabid supporters gives teams a serious boost and the Koreans received possibly the best fan support of any host nation ever, which may have helped explain why the Koreans were the beneficiaries of some of the more questionable calls in the World Cup, including having 2 Spanish goals called back when they should have stood.

And possibly most importantly, they traded in Guus Hiddink for Dick Advocaat. As anybody who's followed Dutch football could tell you, that's not a very good deal. His performance in Euro 2004 was atrocious, even as the Dutch made the semi-finals. The reduction of quality in the gaffer position and the loss of homefield advantage means that South Korea should do well to advance into the knockout rounds.

Switzerland is not usually regarded as a sleeping giant. When your main claims to fame are neutrality, cheese, chocolate and Orson Welles talking shit about you in The Third Man, you may get credit for being sleepy, less so for your potential greatness.

That said, the Swiss side has a real air of quality around them this year. They seem to be coming into the tournament on a run, they have an exceptional coach, they've got good players at all the positions and they've managed to avoid being placed in a dangerous group. This is an excellent recipe for advancing to the knockout stages, with the potential of becoming this year's "surprise team" and possibly making it all the way to the semis.

The key for the Swiss will be the play of striker Alexander Frei. They cannot afford a repeat of his Euro 2004 performance, where he was the second player send home for spitting at an opponent (the other being Italy's Francesco Totti). Unfortunately, we won't get to see Switzerland's exciting youngster Jonathan Vonlathen, as he is out with a thigh injury. Marco Stresser will likely be the player asked to take his place as the second striker.

Togo, like Angola, is a bit of a wildcard. With only one player that even a dedicated fan will have heard of (Arsenal's Adebayor), Togo could lose every game 4-nil or ride a good run into the quarters. There has been some shakiness with the squad, as the coach that got them through qualification was fired in January for a poor performance at the African Nations Cup and there has been some ugliness between the team and the national FA regarding payment and bonsues.

Considering these events and the relative unknown nature of most of the team, it would be easy to assume that Togo is going to be easy prey for the other countries in Group G. This would be too glib (shoutout to Matt Lauer), considering that these events could also have a galvanizing effect on the team and the unknown nature of the Togolese players could well be an advantage. While a poor performance seems more likely than a good one, it would be unwise to count out a team about which we know very little.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

World Cup Preview - Group F

As we count down toward the World Cup Opening match on June 9th, The Middle Foam Finger will be offering capsule previews of each of the World Cup groups, one group per day.

Group F

Although some Australians and Japanese are quick to label Group F "The Group of Death", this is actually only the third-toughest group in the competition, although that shouldn't take away from the difficulty that both those nations will have in advancing. (As to why it isn't the G0D, it's that there are two elite teams in each of the two harder groups, with this group being closer to one elite team and 3 good teams.)

Bucking the alphabetical trend, let's start with Brazil. They are the strongest team in the field and the overwhelming favorite to win a consecutive World Cup, not to mention 3 out of the last 4 (in all of which they appeared in the final game). The star of the team and likely of the entire competition is Ronaldinho, who has already established himself as one of the Special Players, a talent that will be remembered by everybody who saw him play. He's joined in attack by a wealth of talent in Ronaldo, Adriano, Kaka and Robinho coming off the bench. None of these players had particularly good years with their club squads; however, it would be foolish to bet against them here, especially when they'll be surrounded by comparable talent.

Last time out, Brazil relied on a 3-5-1-1 formation that was build around 2 attacking wingbacks and two largely non-attacking midfielders in Kleberson and Gilberto Silva. This time around, the middle men are Emerson and Ze Roberto. While Emerson is a tremendously underrated two-way midfielder, it is interesting that the Brazilians are adopting a much more attacking formation and the question will have to be whether playing midfielders who will go forward will wind up biting them on the ass on defense.

The other question is whether they will play 4 or 5 in the back. Early indications are that they will go with 4, with 2 of those being Roberto Carlos and Cafu, meaning they have a grand total of 2 all-defense players on the pitch at any given time. This isn't as reckless as it sounds when you consider the ability of Brazil to hold the ball and to get back quickly, still, if the players up front stutter, Brazil could wind up like the 1982 squad, an offensive marvel that was snuffed by the stoic Italians.

The Aussies have recently become riled up by a comment made by US Coach Bruce Arena that they construed to mean that Australia is one of the weaker teams at the Cup. While the Aussies don't have much of a history in the competition, they do have a right to be somewhat optimistic, as they have a number of players playing in the best leagues in Europe.

Looking at the Oz roster, central defense is the area of concern as the players there are either aging, coming off of injuries or better suited to play on the flank. The hope must be that experienced keeper Mark Schwarzer will keep the defense organized and on alert. Like the Americans, the Aussies are a team first and should be difficult to break down, even for Brazil.

Croatia are a Middle Foam Finger favorite (courtesy of Rosco's globetrotting youth) and are a dangerous squad this time out, even if they don't have the attacking cachet of the legendary 1998 side. They've got quality all over the pitch without having an outstanding star, although creative midfielder (and son of the coach) Niko Krancjar has a chance to have a breakout performance.

The danger man will be Glasgow Rangers forward Dado Prso, who would make an excellent Bond villian if he decided to hang up his boots (taking this position from the former US international Jeff Agoos). Put into a tough group, I would expect the Croats to play Brazil for a draw and hope to beat the other two sides.

Japan has recently had a bit of a hubbub in their camp after Hidetoshi Nakata, one of the veteran players, announced that the team was in a shambles and not taking the competition seriously. Nakata has a reputation for being difficult to deal with and may also be speaking out due to a role of reduced importance as Nakamura takes over the playmaking duties.

Japan has a serious lack of options up top, especially since both of their top-choice strikers are nursing minor injuries. With a regional rivalry against Australia and being coached by a Brazilian, those games should come with added emotional weight, especially since Japan will likely have to beat Australia (and vice versa) to have a chance of advancing.

Monday, June 05, 2006

It'll never play in Wurzberg

Not to go all Free Darko on you tonight; however, it's not easy to read Pat Forde's latest over on the worldwide leader and not come away with a nasty aftertaste. (As an aside, this article was written and posted before the article talking about the same column went up at FD. It's just something in the air!)

The premise starts out that stating that the Dallas Mavericks, if they win, will be the first NBA Champion to be led by a true Euro. Which is true enough and worthy of discussion. Even the talk of Euros playing the game in a different way deserves to be examined, with no less an authority than Kobe Bryant talking about Ginobli's dribbling technique and the recent theory that Nash's perpetual motion dribbling is somewhow soccer-inspired.

Unfortunately, the column quickly digresses into the favored land of the white middle-aged basketball writer, the decrying of the corrupted nature of the young (black) basketball player, more concerned with fame (black), money (black) and respect (black) than he is in learning how to box out (white) or shoot free throws (white).

One wonders how exactly Wade, Howard, Daniels, Harris and other young American players have managed to develop "fundamentals" at all.

The answer is that everybody is going to point fingers at Sebastian Telfair (possibly unfairly, possibly not) rather than talk about Wayne Simien. Forde's attack on American youth basketball reads less as an indictment of entropy taking apart the logistics of youth leagues as it is a condemnation of the ethics and philosophy of the current generation of young American players.

The most telling portion of the article being the following quote:

" in Europe and elsewhere actually learned how to play the game."

Which is why the Warriors would be crazy to ever let my namesake go and why they're crazy to have given up so quickly on Skita. Quick! Trade for Jiri Welsch again!

Then, we return to the favorite dead horse of those who bring up these arguments: the performance of the US Basketball team, ignoring all the various details and complexities involved in international basketball, to place the blame not on poor squad selection (not all of that voluntary), inability to change strategies for a different rule set, etc; rather, the fault is clearly that America is the sick man of basketball youth development.

It is a disservice to Nowitzki to be claimed as an icon by the Play-The-Right-Way brigade. His game is closer to Rucker than it's true to Deustchland and it's more T-Mac than it is Mikan.

(RIP Ralph Wiley. You are sorely missed.)

World Cup Preview - Group E

As we count down toward the World Cup Opening match on June 9th, The Middle Foam Finger will be offering capsule previews of each of the World Cup groups, one group per day.

Group E
Czech Republic

The mini-Group of Death. The Group of Small Deaths? The Group of Mortification?

The Czech Republic is making their "first appearance" in the Cup, which is a little misleading given the historical strength of Czechoslovakia. With one of the finest goalies in the world in Peter Cech and world-class talent in the midfield in the form of Nedved, Rosicky and Poborsky, the Czechs are a very good team. Many observers (including myself) felt that the Czechs played the best football at Euro 2004 and were unlucky to go out against Greece in the semi-finals.

Still, the Greece game shows that as good as the Czechs are, they can still be frustrated and part of this is due to their inconsistency up front. As good as Baros and Koller are, neither of them are real goal-poachers and tend to score in patches. If Baros can find his form from Euro 2004, the Czechs are a threat for, well, let's say the semis, if not the finals.

Ghana are another debutant, although they also have a history as the best team in Africa never to have made the World Cup. The Black Stars always seemed to be on the brink of becoming a powerhouse and this year could finally be the payoff. The strength of the team is in the midfield, where Michael Essien (Chelsea), Sulley Muntari (Udinese) and Stephen Appiah (ex- of Juventus, now at Fenerbahce) are world-class talents.

The rest of the squad is loaded with reliable veterans such as Sammy Kuffour and fresh youngsters like Asamoah Gyan, as well as having a number of reliable keepers, a rarity for an African team. Having no outstanding striker is the only weak spot for Ghana and must come as some consolation to the other teams in Group E. Ghana would probably be a favorite to advance in any other group.

And then there's the seeded team, Italy. Coming off the Italian match-fixing scandal, there's some hope that it could adversely affect the Italians, which would be good news for the other teams in the group and really, any team hoping to win the World Cup, as the Italians have an extremely strong side.

The defense isn't actually as good as it has been in years past, as there's no Maldini to lead them and many of the players still around have quite a bit of wear on their treads. The midfield still looks to be built around Pirlo distributing from deep and Camorenasi cutting in from the right. The key for Italy will be whether the talismanic Totti will be able to play at his peak of ability since if he does, Italy could well win the whole schmeer. Totti will have the advantage of playing behind a number of talented strikers, as the Azzuri will probably start the bullish Luca Toni and Alberto Gilardino up top with experienced forward Alessandro Del Piero coming off the bunch. As super-subs go, you can't ask for much more than that. And that's not even counting the ultimate poacher, Pippo Inzaghi.

However, f Italy plays their standard style of catenaccio, the whole thing could blow up in their face. With so much attacking talent, it doesn't make sense to sit back and allow a lesser team to keep the game close. If the Italians cast off their tactical shackles and come forward, they should be one of the favorites to win the Cup. If they stick with their preferred style of defense first, they may well get tipped out early.

And finally, the United States. Fast, strong, reliant on preventing other teams from playing their game, the Americans are a threat to upset the big teams in this group and are also a threat to not get a point out of any of the games. I feel that it will depend on which team scores first, as the US prefers to counter-attack rather than having to chase the game. This will probably result in the Americans playing for a tie against Italy and possibly the Czechs then playing for the win against Ghana.

Really, you could make an argument for the US being out-matched at almost every position on the field by all three of the other teams, with the exception of goalkeeper and striker in comparison to Ghana. The key for the US will be to maintain tactical discipline and not allow the other team to dictate play. Although this doesn't make for classic games, it's definitely the best chance that the US has for advancing.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

World Cup Preview - Group D

As we count down toward the World Cup Opening match on June 9th, The Middle Foam Finger will be offering capsule previews of each of the World Cup groups, one group per day.

Group D

Group D is supposed to be the weakest group in the World Cup, with motley collection of non-Euro, non-South American sides joining Portugal, who despite making it to the semis of Euro 2004, isn't even the seeded team in this group.

Portugal is still trying to move on from the "Golden Generation", a group of players who dominated at the youth tournament level and never achieved the same level of success with the senior team. Rui Costa is the major figure from the Golden Generation who is no longer on the team, although the squad still has a number of holdovers.

The Portuguese have suffered in recent compeitions from a lack of goal production. The closest they've come to producing a top-level striker is Pauleta, who led the scoring charts in France last year; however, he has a tendency to be marked out of the game in international competitions, especially in the big games. Part of this is because Pauleta is not a big man and Portugal prefers to play him as a lone forward, meaning that it's easy for an experienced defense to isolate him from his supply line.

Portugal should advance to the second round, whether they make it any farther will probably be contingent on Coach Scolari deciding to play with a second striker or if Cristiano Ronaldo and Deco provide goal-scoring from the midfield.

To give the match a nice twist of possible colonial revenge, Portugal's ex-colony of Angola has been drawn into the same group. With a few Portuguese-born players in their team and a history of clashes when the two teams play, this game has potential to be a classic. Most people seem to be assuming that Angola will be lucky to record a single draw, although a couple Latin American pundits have theorized that they will come out of the group as a surprise team. With not much of a history to go on, they should probably be regarded as a wildcard.

Mexico are the seeded team in the group, thanks to their play in competitions such as the Confederations Cup and the Copa America, as well as their club teams playing in Latin American club cups. El Tri follows the general North American trend of fielding fast and physical squads, although they're the most technically gifted of the CONCACAF sides.

Plus, they cheat! Teams that play dirty (see: Argentina, Germany) generally tend to do well in international play, although you can't go all the way in that direction, as you can see in the case of Uruguay.

I have a feeling that Iran is being under-rated by many people. They have a solid core of players used to international play (many of them being based out of Germany) and if you'd forgotten, they did beat the US back in France '98. Remember, as the Germans say, "The ball is round" and any team with some quality stands a fairly good chance of beating a "better" team.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

World Cup Preview - Group C

As we count down toward the World Cup Opening match on June 9th, The Middle Foam Finger will be offering capsule previews of each of the World Cup groups, one group per day.

Group C
Ivory Coast
Serbia & Montenegro

This is widely acknowledged as this year's "Group of Death", denoting a group where every team would have had a reasonable chance of advancing if they hadn't been drawn in a group with 3 other teams with a reasonable chance of advancing. There's a 2-time World Cup Champion, a former European Championship winner that's widely regarded as the best team never to win a World Cup, the strongest African team in the competition and a team that allowed a single goal in their 10-game World Cup Qualification campaign.

It's a real shame that two of the most attractive teams in world football are in the same group and if you've seen pictures of Carlos Tevez and Dirk Kuijt, you know I'm not talking about personal appearances.

Argentina, who can field a team with Tevez, Leo Messi, Juan Roman Riquelme and Hernan Crespo all on the pitch at the same time, rivals Brazil in terms of attacking talent. Unlike previous Argentinian teams, their defense is a real question mark, with a bunch of aging or untested defenders and no reliable goalkeeper. Given this, it's not surprising that this team is more attack-minded than previous Argie squads and more concerned with holding the ball than kicking at the other team. Or at least we can hope.

The Dutch come in the World Cup as another squad in transition. Coach Marco Van Basten has cleansed the squad of malcontents, dropping Davids, Seedorf and Makaay to name the big names. He seems to prefer the classic Ajax 4-3-3, consisting of the English back 4 with attacking fullbacks, 3 central midfielders and a forward line consisting of two wingers and a central striker.

In Arjen Robben they have one of the premier left wingers in the world, if he can stay healthy. On the other side, Van Basten seems to prefer Kuijt despite the fact that he generally plays centrally. If center striker Ruud Van Nistlerooy has issues with finishing, don't be surprised if Kuijt is moved to the middle position and Ryan Babel or Romeo Castelen come in on the right.

Everybody seems to be slagging on the Ivory Coast, with the exception of certain Latin American writers, who seem to recognize that anytime you get a fast and physically strong team with an experienced and confident striker up top, there's a definite possibility for upsets, especially when there's no pressure on the team, or at least no pressure compared to the insanity that both the Dutch and Argentinian team will have to endure. Having two defenders on a team that reached the Champions League final can't hurt either, and I fully expect the Ivorians to surprise a few people.

European writers also like to harp on the fact that African teams tend to be "reckless" and "hot-headed", which is shorthand for the fact that Africans are still regarded as savages by people who really ought to know better. Given the racism problems in European football, we shouldn't be surprised.

Speaking of racism in European football, we have the Serbs! I fully admit that I dislike these guys, mainly because their domestic game seems to be dominated by dimbulb racist hooligans and the fact that they've produced a number of complete and total shit-cock "politicians" who were nothing more than hired thugs.

This isn't helped by the fact that their team is dominated by their defense, with the main attacking option being Mateja "Neck Beard" Kezman. Unfortunately, the strategy of defense-first and run a counter-attack is incredibly successful in football and I fully expect them to be instrumental in knocking out either the Dutch or the Argies. I won't mind so long as they get beat by the Ivorians.

Friday, June 02, 2006

World Cup Preview - Group B

As we count down toward the World Cup Opening match on June 9th, The Middle Foam Finger will be offering capsule previews of each of the World Cup groups, one group per day.

Group B
Trinidad & Tobago

England came into the World Cup as one of the favorites to win the whole thing, mainly on the fact that they have a pretty good team plus one of the most exciting players in the world, Wayne Rooney. Famous for his incredible goals and relentless play (and infamous for his problems with gambling and humping grannies), Roons managed to go and break his foot late in the English season, meaning that he's questionable for the World Cup.

Of course, this has created a media circus that threatens to be so over-the-top that "circus" may not even appropriate anymore. Regardless of his injury, Rooney will be going to Germany with the English team and hopefully taking some of the media attention away from Beckham, AKA Mr. Posh.

Beckham has been fighting against a backlash in his native land, as he apparently isn't "English" enough. Hmm, let's see, he's rich, he's popular around the world, he's actually fairly good-looking and so is his wife. I guess they're right.

All mocking the English aside, Becks is a bit of an albatross since he can really only play one position, that being out on the right wing and while his excellent crosses compensate for his lack of pace on the offensive end, he remains a defensive liability. That, and his famous red cards and missed penalties sum up the English tendency to crap the bed (or, if you prefer, "pull a Davenport") in big games.

A tendency that leads me to believe that they will get pipped for the top group spot by Sweden, will have to face the Germans in the second round and will probably lose to The Hun on penalties.

Sweden has a solid and workmanlike team until you get to the forward position, where they have two of the best strikers in the competition.

Okay, Larsson is old and Ibrahimovic had a poor year with Juventus, still, they're both class and have played together enough to be very dangerous. Not dangerous enough to make up for the mediocrity of the rest of the squad (note to Freddie Ljungberg: No, you're not that good anymore); they should be able to make it to the second round and probably the quarterfinals though.

Paraguay is a dull team. Expect all their matches to be either 0-0 or 1-0 as Paraguay kicks lumps out of anybody with the temerity to go across the halfway line, whether they have the ball or not. Without the completely insane Chilavert in net, there isn't much to say about them, so let's not.

It's tough to write anything about Trinidad and Tobago without falling down the well of "cheeky little team, what upstarts, if they win a game, it's ganja for everybody for months". They've even got a token white player who, like most of the rest of the team, plays in the English lower divisions, oooh, the underdogginess of it all is enough to make me barely keep my breakfast down. I'm still rooting for them though, even if the whole thing seems like a Disney setup.