Friday, July 02, 2010

It's a Cruel, Cruel Summer Cup Exit for Ghana, Brasil

Landon Donovan said it right, “this can be a cruel game sometimes.”

None more so for Ghana, carrying the hopes of Africa on its shoulders, only to be denied in the last second of of overtime on a penalty kick by Gyan that hammered the crossbar, sending the game to a PK shootout. Gyan, Ghana’s most consistent and experienced player, had twice converted on PKs earlier in the competition. This time, the usually reliable Gyan opted for power instead of displacing the goalkeeper, and his tired legs betrayed him as his shot shook the woodwork, inches away from sending Ghana through to a historic semifinal World Cup berth, the first for any African nation.

In the end, Uruguay prevailed in the penalty shootout, on a diffident chip shot by “Loco” Abreu, very much in character for this experienced “matador” with the tantalizing, borderline arrogant penalty shots. Gyan left the field in tears. Soccer City and the vuvuzelas were as silent as Maracanã Stadium when Brasil went down to Uruguay, 2-1, in the 1950 World Cup final.

Today was another incredible day in World Cup history.

For the record, Brasil lost a World Cup match for the first time in its history when it had the lead at halftime. It had to happen sometime. But I had a bad feeling about this game for a couple of reasons: (1) Brasil had come out on the winning end against Holland too many times in similar circumstances –- eventually the pendulum swings back, especially against such a storied side as the Dutch; and (2) the great Zagallo, who played with Pelé and coached Brasil’s most awesome Cup side in 1970, warned that Holland was dangerous –- shades of Pelé’s warning about Italy in 1982, when that incredible Brasilian team went down to the crabby Italians. It wasn’t until the 1994 Cup in the U.S. that a Brasilian side inferior to the 1982 team exacted its revenge on Roberto Baggio’s Italy when Baggio missed his PK shot, much as Gyan did today.

Despite legendary striker Johann Cruyff’s obnoxious remarks about Brasil, that he wouldn’t pay to see this team play, the fact is Brasil’s midfield depth was suspect. When Elano, the precise and efficient midfield companion to Kaká went down to a malicious foul after having scored two goals for Brasil, and his replacement Ramires sat out the match with two yellows, Brasil conceded midfield dominance to the Dutch, and was unable to generate consistent attacks. And that was that.

Or, one could consider the curse of the Nike ad, brilliantly exposed by Rachel Maddow. Rachel’s a Red Sox fan, so she knows from curses. And Brasilians, for their part, are naturally superstitious. Yes, not only Ronaldinho, Brasil’s representative, was out of the Cup altogether but now, so too is Brasil.

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Spain is next. The Spaniards are living on borrowed time. And that surging Argentina side led by the manic genius gnome, Dieguito Maradona, with the $4,000 suit, bling galore, hugs and kisses for his talented but mercurial players, will be World Champions.

I have a feeling this is their year. (You heard it here first.)

1 comment:

Carlos said...

Haha ... So much for my predictions. Looks like the snot-eating coach might be World Champ after all; his gross personal hygiene should not reflect poorly on a great German squad -- during this game coach kept hands in pockets and drank lots of bottled water as Angela Merkle looked on -- with young maestro Ozil serving up perfect passes for old man Klose to crank it up, two goals (now) shy of the all-time record.

Spain, largely under the radar so far, still has something to say, despite the "huge" albatross of the Nike ad curse around its neck; Paraguay plays stingy defense but can't score; and will the Dutch once and for all, ever(!), chuck the rep of eternal bridesmaids?

We shall see ... :)