Sunday, July 02, 2006

Quarter Finals Afterthoughts and Semi Finals Picks

The 2006 FIFA World Cup quarterfinals caused all sorts of troubles to the people with so called high FQ (Football Quotient) and to the bookmakers around the world who had Brazil, the favorite, followed closely by Germany, Argentina, and England tied for the second place with almost identical odds permeated by reasonable fluctuations from time to time.

Baring Germany, the lone survivor, the journey is over for the rest of the top guns as grief, despair, and madness crisscrossed from London to Buenos Aires. The fans didn't get a taste of what could have been an electrifying semi-final encounter between Brazil and England.

No slights intended to the French and the Portuguese.

In all fairness, the French, with a band of familiar faces who's been there and done that, are looking increasingly ominous setting themselves up for a dèja vu. They rode through the successive Spanish and Brazilian storms with steely resolve when everyone had written them off. Had anyone said before that France would be here trashing Spain and Brazil on their way, people would have laughed off on their face, might even asked a polite question or two on the crack they are smoking. Now they are here, make no mistake the crazy Gauls could go all the way.

The Portuguese, not exactly a surprise but were not expected to be here either (I picked them for reasons I refuse to disclose here but feel free to check my blog).

They are more than a gritty talented bunch, well coached by the fire-band Luiz "Big Phil" Scolari who previously helped Brazil to win the 2002 World Cup title. The recent successes of Portugal, a trip to the finals of Euro 2004 and the World Cup semi-finals this time around, provide ample testimony to their class and will likely catapult them to the elite of world football in the future.

Now for the losers, it was hard to swallow, particularly for the insanely talented Argentineans who saw their hopes evaporate, courtesy of the jughead Jose Pekerman, their coach, who left out his aces Lionel Messi and Javier Saviola cold on the bench and inexplicably went defensive by pulling out Crespo and Riquelme with an 1-0 lead and 18 minutes left to play. He is the fool's fool.

Ukraine lost. Good riddance.

England — well, you know, lost, again. The script was all too familiar, neatly rehearsed and played out on the field. Another quarterfinal match-up in a major tournament against a team coached by Scolari — and the losing tradition remains intact.

More than England v. Portugal, it was Sven Goran Eriksson v. Scolari. Ultra cool v. passion. Drawing board v. free-wheeling coaching. An over-paid (24 million pounds in 5 years) v. an eccentric over-the-board genius.

Thrice they met, thrice Eriksson lost (2002, WC quarter finals when Scolari was coaching Brazil; 2004, Euro quarter finals against Scolari's Portugal).

The game had had its share of controversies. No matter how you like to spin it, Rooney was rightly sent off for stamping on the nuts of Carvalho. Down to 10 men, England played superb, had their best game of the tournament, but in the end, lost when it mattered most.

With the talent, at least on paper, England should have been in the Finals without any serious trouble; but as always, it's not about individuals, it's about how the talents mesh with each other bringing out the best in everyone within an effective system, which to Eriksson's failure was never there in the first place.

Semi-finals picks:

Germany over Italy.
Portugal over France.

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