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The Modern Spectator

19 July 2006, 10:35

Read our new sports magazine, ‘The Modern Spectator.’ It offers a broad view of our culture and our games. Let us know what you think.

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Until the fat lady sings

11 July 2006, 11:42

Illustration by Marshall Hopkins

Ladies and gentlemen, the World Cup is over. But do not fear. The World Cup Newsletter will continue even after the curtain goes down on the Materazzi incident. We are committed to binging you sports commentary and cultural ruminations in some form or other. Stay tuned.

For now, Materazzi is all I can think about (Was there an all-star game last night? Is there a bike race happening somewhere in Europe?). Check out these videos that people keep sending me. First there are Materazzi’s dirty tricks. Then we’ve got the Italian training camp spoof. And, of course, there’s the other angle on the incident. Youtube is loaded with translations and reenactments. You can spend a long time over there, getting inspiration for the play.

Finally, for kicks, here’s the Adidas audition for Pedro, the pudgy kid in those Jose+10 ads.

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Final Pool Results

11 July 2006, 10:17

See how you did in the World Cup Pool.

Click here to read on.

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Two Footballers in Search of an Author

10 July 2006, 10:32

I am trying to write a play, but I’m having trouble with one scene. The dialogue just doesn’t ring true. Can anyone help me?

ACT 1
Scene 1

(Lights up on an empty stage. MARCO MATERAZZI is standing in the middle. He wears the blue Italian national football kit and Puma cleats. He is in his early 30s, but he could be any age. He has long, silly sideburns, big eyes, and a cartoonish look. He practices expressions of surprise and pain.)

Click here to read on.

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A Championship Christening

09 July 2006, 17:02

My friend Steve wants to name his first son Trezeguet. He likes the sound of it. Trezeguet McClure. Immediately after the final yesterday, I got a text from him: “Poor Trez” was all it said. Confined to the bench for most of the tournament, David Trezeguet came on in the 10th minute of extra time for Frank Ribery. He had to play with only nine teammates for a long stretch. Then he had to take a penalty. It was well struck, but it hit the bar and bounced out. France lost the World Cup.

The penalty miss, so random and yet so precise, is one of the great tragedies of world soccer. The French may or may not remember Trezeguet’s golden goal that sunk Italy in Euro 2000. They will surely remember his miss, just as the Italians will never forget Baggio’s gaffe in 1994. Trezeguet must now return to his scandal-ridden Italian club Juventus and play with all those gloating Italian champions. In practice he will take penalties against Buffon. He will make most of them, but they won’t matter. This one did. As Trezeguet said afterward, “We know we’ve had a good World Cup, but it was all defined by this penalty.”

Click here to read on.

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The Golden Head-Butt

09 July 2006, 12:33

Before the World Cup final, Italian midfielder Genarro Gattuso knew that he would have to defend Zinedine Zidane. Gattuso’s nickname is “Ringhio,” which translates roughly as “snarl.” He strikes fear in the hearts of many opponents. But Zizou is not your average opponent. Gattuso called on a higher power. “Zinedine non si ferma, bisogna solo pregare,” he said. That is, “you can’t stop Zidane, you just have to pray.”

Is this what Marco Materazzi was doing? Praying?

Click here to read on.

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ITALIA! CAMPIONI DEL MUNDO!

08 July 2006, 19:24

Gli Azzurri won on penalties, 5-3, after a 1-1 draw with France. Zidane was sent off for a crazy headbut. Trezeguet hit the bar on his penalty, and the Italians broke the curse. None of their players missed from the spot. The last was Fabio Grosso. What a tournament for Grosso! What a run for the four-time world champions!

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La Cruda

08 July 2006, 13:45

I explain my World Cup hangover on the Times blog.

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The Widening Gyre

06 July 2006, 16:38

History repeats itself. In the Euro 2000 semifinal, France beat Portugal. Zinédine Zidane scored the winning goal, a penalty, after the referee called a questionable handball. In Wednesday’s World Cup semifinal, Zidane again doomed the Portuguese from the penalty spot. There wasn’t too much question about Ricardo Carvalho’s tackle in the area, which set up the goal, but the result was the same.

France’s final opponent is the same as well. In 2000, they beat Italy 2-1 in extra time to take the European title (France also beat Italy in the 1986 and 1998 World Cups). On Sunday Les Bleus face the Azzurri for the first time since the 2000 match. They look to complete the déjà vu.

Click here to read on.

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World Cup-ology

04 July 2006, 18:41

Global soccer is more than just sport. It’s everything. Mike Stevens leads us on an inter-disciplinary tour of the tournament:

Illustration by Marshall HopkinsNot content on the sidelines, everyone from financial analysts to geographers continue to weigh in this 2006 World Cup. Some offer small insights related to their particular disciplines, others elaborate predictions based on rigorous, though admittedly non-sports related, analysis. All seem driven by a deep desire to shoehorn their professional expertise into some aspect of the tournament.

The investment banking giant Goldman Sachs offers one of the better options with its annual report ‘The World Cup and Economics.’ The 57-page report offers an economic overview of each nation with a team in the tournament along with some soccer analysis.

Additional soccer commentary comes from some big names including David Beckham choosing his “World Dream Team” and former Brazilian Central Bank Governor Arminio Fraga discussing his home country’s unparalleled World Cup history and this year’s squad.

Economists of all stripes seem unable to keep their mathematical formulas and talk of GDPs off the Cup. Brown University economist Ignacio Palacio-Huerta narrowed his focus exclusively to penalty kicks. Using game theory, Palacio-Huerta tries to figure out what makes players like French superstar Zinédine Zidane and Italian goalkeeper Gigi Buffon rise above others when it comes to this tension-inducing probability contest.

...For Stevens’ rundown of philosphy, linguisitics, physics, and more, click below…

Click here to read on.

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Iberian players take the stage

04 July 2006, 12:27

When France played Portugal in the semifinals of Euro 2000, there was a bench-clearing melee. Portugal had started strongly and looked the better team at first. Nuno Gomes opened the scoring. After the half, though, the French came roaring back. Thierry Henry equalized and sent the match into overtime. Twenty-seven minutes into the extra period, the referee awarded a penalty to France for a questionable handball. The Portuguese erupted in anger. The game stopped for several minutes. Then Zidane scored. France went on to win the tournament.

They meet today in an even bigger semifinal. If you ask my cousin E.J., Portugal deserves to lose. He is an England fan, you see, and he can’t abide all that Iberian complaining and rolling around. He prefers red-faced balls-kicking Brits to the thespians with the slick hair and maroon shirts.

It’s true that Portugal has a lot of characters. Luis Figo may be called a ‘matinee idol’ for his dramatic dives, not for his looks. Deco seems to laugh and cry in succession. Cristiano Ronaldo, with his superfluous dribbling flair and his baby face, has a tragic air about him. My friend Steve calls him Paris.

Click here to read on.

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A star is born

04 July 2006, 11:01

Italian left back Fabio Grosso is not a star. Born in Rome in 1977, he wasn’t recruited by any of the big clubs as a teenager. He played on an amateur team until he was in his 20s. Then he spent a few years in the lower levels of Italian professional soccer. Gradually working his way up, he joined ambitious Sicilian club Palermo in 2004. Palermo was then in Serie B, the second division, but with Grosso and striker Luca Toni (a fellow late-bloomer), they were soon playing in the top flight and playing well. Grosso had made it.

Grosso is tall and slow, but he somehow manages to work his way up the left wing and join the attack. Then he tracks back and guards the flank. He anticipates the play well and seems to know exactly where to needs to be. He has never done it better than he has this month. His run into the box (and his acrobatic fall) forced the winning penalty against Australia. Against Germany, his goal broke the deadlock.

This was an excellent match, a classic semifinal.

Click here to read on.

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Pool Update, 3rd Round

04 July 2006, 02:10

Check your progress in the Pool.

Click here to read on.

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Semifinal Stat Pack

02 July 2006, 16:31

Mike Stevens breaks down the critical statistics ahead of this week’s big matches:

As an American sports fan, I have to love numbers. I am not necessarily happy about being dependent on statistics to enjoy sports, but that’s the way it is. Acknowledging the problem is the first step.

Soccer usually offers a relief. The sport’s fluid, uninterrupted style of play makes it hard to quantify performance. And even if commentators have stats, most keep busy calling the game as it unfolds free from the concerns of filling dead air between innings, during huddles or after a timeout is called.

Not so, this World Cup. I knew I was in for trouble shortly after German striker Miroslav Klose put the second ball in the back of Costa Rica’s net in the Cup’s opening match. ESPN’s Dave O’Brien had the call. What did he let us know? That Klose, who was celebrating his 28th birthday by killing the hopes of tens of thousands of soccer-mad Costa Ricans, was the first player to score two goals on his birthday in the opening match of a World Cup being held in his own country. The clauses piled up, one after the other, oblivious to the joy on the field or the replay showing how Klose struck.

Click here to read on.

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Don't cry for Pekerman

02 July 2006, 15:15

Before the match with Germany, Argentine coach Jose Pekerman said: “People know what game Argentina play because we have Riquelme. It’s a declaration of intent.” He must now be judged by his own words. With twenty minutes to go and a one-goal lead, Pekerman took Riquelme off the field. It was a declaration of intent. Argentina was to sit back and let Germany come at them.

Click here to read on.

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