Well it is nary a month before the grand nuptials and I am still alive to write this, which must be a good sign. Ali has yet to murder me in my sleep, although I must admit the closer things get and the more odd-ball occurrences the more I am inclined to sleep with one eye open. Truth be told, Ali is anything but a bridezilla, but anyone that knows her understands that la maestra is a planner. It is part of her genetic code. She definitely gets it from her father, another “i”s dotted “t”s crossed sort, to be sure. Thus, when others are impeding the planning, her stress level rises. So those of you that read this and have yet to send your response cards, get them in the mail!
Of course, I frightfully admit that I have not been the greatest ally in the planning department, which draws the bright-hot light of her searing eyeball on occasion. More to the point, when someone else is faltering a bit and threatening “the plan,” as her husband to be, I get a front row seat to watch the mercury of my beloved’s stressometer rise. Those are the nights that I am a lighter sleeper. All in all, I have to say she has handled things like a champ and we are in full swing for the final preparations. It is really quite exciting. I am far too fortunate, honestly.
Aside from the occasional wedding task set before me, I am headlong into World Cup fever and have been for two weeks running. Of all the sporting events, this is the one for me. Nothing compares! Nothing competes! It is the heavyweight champion of the sporting world (If I may mix my sports metaphors.). The best players from the world over assembled for a single month, followed by the brightest lights and greatest number of eyeballs, representing their nations and know-how in the simplest and most beautiful game. I am a junkie in the extreme.
With the group stage over and the round of sixteen complete the match-ups become increasingly interesting and potentially entertaining. For my money Argentina and Germany have been the class teams of the tournament. The fatherland’s team has been positively steamrolling the competition, riding waves of adulation from the home crowd as the hosts. They have been increasingly impressive. They are always one of the teams I like and while this group hasn’t quite earned the same affection that the ‘90 winning eleven had, they are gaining ground. The powder blue and white stripes on the other hand readily dispatched teams they were suppose to beat and still managed to look imposing when struggling against better competition. There is a long history between these two teams, including two consecutive finals in ’86 and ’90, where they split the spoils, the former being Maradona’s famous campaign to cup victory and the latter a physically brutal final where the more disciplined Germans prevailed. It is a shame that only one of them will be left after this match.
Being an ardent Dutch fan, I was gravely disappointed to see them lose, but the Portuguese teams that fell them is clearly in the next tier of teams with the Brazilians. It always comes down to them, doesn’t it? But they have yet to really show the depth and character of their enormously talented side. Nearly every member of the famed yellow, blue, and white could make a bid for the tournament’s best eleven awards. Be that as it may, Kaka seems to be the one true player of quality right now, rising above his more famed mates. Despite winning all their matches they have failed to really play impressively. Yet, there is no team in the world that will capitalize on a mistake and punish an opponent with greater speed and efficiency than the Seleção. Every team they have faced thus far have learned this the hard way, needing to fish the ball from the netting before the team can identify what tactical error was made. Conversely, Portugal has played with great flash and, at times, ferocity. Unfortunately, there blood-match with the Netherlands has left them with some missing personnel for their tilt with England.
Amongst the rest of the teams, the Queen’s men have also been less than impressive, but just good enough to win. Fortunate to only be tested against Sweden, a match that they let slip away, they have been dangerously hanging on to their weak goal scoring efforts (albeit Beckham’s free-kicks aside). Another team I always like is Italy, and they have yet to find their form, as well. Yet, the Azzurri are notorious for ruggedly enduring and outlasting the opposition, only to accomplish a victory with a swift strike of brilliance emanating from their trademark defense. When they attack they bring speed, numbers, and this year size, like few other teams in the world. The betting scandal back home can’t be anything but a distraction, despite any comments to the contrary. Yet, they have the easiest quarter final opponent by far in the Ukraine. The Ukraine team can be summed up in a word, awful. So of all the teams they have the safest passage to the semis. Most surprising is the resurgence of France. Initially they looked lost and confused, unable to generate any kind of creative play and even less offense. Then they grew inspired, made it to the knockout phase and bested a very talented Spanish team, vanquishing the World Cup’s eternal bad luck team. Granted they came out of the weakest group, but Les Bleus earned a rematch of their ’98 cup victory match with universal favorites Brazil. Again, it gets back to them.
I have to mention that as great as these games look to be, the semifinals should prove to be the best of all. They almost always exceed the pressure packed, tense play of the finals. Yet, I definitely think the Argentina-Germany and Brazil-France clashes will reveal the eventual teams placed in the final, with the potential for an all South American final on European soil, a first to be sure. Of course, you never know what surprises are lurking in the referee’s pocket. The men in black have done almost everything imaginable to nearly wreck the tournament. However, that is material for another post entirely.