Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The last week of 'World Cup fever' - Part 1.

While there are a fortunate few who have accumulated enough leave days to stay at home gawking at their satellite television from 11 pm to 5 am, there's also a majority of people that burn the midnight oil for the sake of watching 'The Cup of Life' or locally known as "22 handsome lads chasing a round tampon" (quote unquote Catherine Goh). One person that falls into the latter category would be me. My insomnia, was of course, voluntary as I wasn't expected to return to work till mid July.

It seems that last week's match between Germany and Argentina (one of the big profile matches for the quarter-finals) sparked interest from the general supper-eating populace of Penang. Hundreds of people; young and old, flocked to the nearest Indian restaurant to catch the match exclusively live on Astro. Although the Argentines lost on penalties, I doubt that they were outgunned by the German team. Their home crowd certainly gave them the best confidence one could ask for - and it certainly paid off. Surprise package number 1.

Then came the predicted Italian rout against the Ukrainians. Pity was obviously not in any of the Marcello Lippi's Italian players' minds that night as they discarded the dark horses of the tournament even before throwing in Gennaro Gattuso onto the pitch. Although this was a classic case of an inexperienced football team battered by former world champions, one should still be cautious about the striking prowess of Fiorentina-based player Luca Toni. With Totti as backup, Italy may just have the ingredients to march forth into the Finals this tournament.

England. Oh, England. Rubbished as overpaid and not adventurous in open play, they managed to get the points required to progress to the quarter-finals but how they managed to screw that up with their team selection consisting of lanky Peter Crouch is anyone's guess. After the loss of Owen in the group stages, I figured that options were running dry. They certainly shouldn't have relied on Rooney alone and his temperament was highlighted in the final quarter of their match against Scolari led Portugal. The Portugese, regardless of the final scoreline; all credit to them - every single Portugese player worked and moved as a PROGRESSIVE unit and England was nowhere their vintage performance (not that they had any this World Cup). Both teams were unable to find the spot after playing their share of extra time so let the lottery followed. Penalty misses-slash-goalkeeping heroics ensued so I guess the most attractive league in the world doesn't translate to English glory in Berlin this year. Perhaps McLaren's Euro 2008 squad will perform better. Portugal is surprise package number 2.

The champions Brazil were up next against old foes France. This match is hands down the most unexpected result of the quarter finals. Not because of Henry's superb goal but because Brazil were outclassed and tactically undone by the Les Bleus courtesy of none other than Zinedine Zidane in his final World Cup. I've been speechless and gutted by this particular loss. I clearly didn't want Brazil to win it again but I would have at least wanted them into the Finals to avoid a bloody all-European final match; which is a definite now. Surprise package number 3.

Of all the teams that are left in the equation, I foresee a Germany versus France final. My money's on the Krauts to win it this year. They're ambitious, they're tough, they have the backing of a splendid German crowd. Unless Zizou and Co. spring a surprise this weekend with an early goal, I do not see the French going any further than the front lawn to collect the grand prize. ACHTUNG!

+ UPDATE: The 'Azzuri' proved me wrong! Kudos!

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