Posted by: mdegeorge | June 20, 2010

A week to turn the World on its head

Despite what ESPN darling Rick Reilly may write about the World Cup (at least it wasn’t so sweet and fluffy that I needed to go to the dentist afterwards), it’s been a glorious week that has seen traditional powers laid low by upstarts time and time again. I think this has been one of the toughest weeks for the major European powers since 1944.

It started Wednesday with the Swiss toppling European champions Spain by withstanding an offensive onslaught. Manager Vicente Del Bosque has been grilled for his controversial decision to go with a 4-5-1 formation, a stark contrast from the personnel groupings that catapulted them to the title at Euro 2008. Several of La Furia Roja’s top players have struggled through injuries recently—including midfielder Andres Iniesta, who appears to be a doubt for their next game against Honduras.

[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=patrice+evra&iid=9165605″ src=”http://view1.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/9165605/france-training/france-training.jpg?size=500&imageId=9165605″ width=”380″ height=”546″ /]

Thursday’s shock—though that moniker is losing its luster with each passing day—came via the France camp, which started a disastrous week with a 2-0 embarrassment at the hands of Mexico. Since then, the FFF (French Football Free-for-all) has embarked on a downward spiral that has included:

– An altercation between striker Nicolas Anelka (who’s started both games so far) and head coach Raymond Domenech that led to Anelka’s dismissal and some blushes for Bob Ley thanks to France’s lax broadcast laws.

– A bust-up between star left back Patrice Evra and fitness coach Robert Duverne at the training ground this morning, after which the team boarded the bus and informed Domenech that they refused to practice this morning (also video here).

– A statement issued by technical director Jean-Louis Valentin this morning, after which he resigned.

– And an admission by Evra that there’s a “traitor” within the French team’s ranks who’s to blame for the bedlam that has ensued, not Anelka.

Oh yeah, and Les Blues have failed to score a goal in two matches, have had the offensive continuity of a grade-school rec team, require a win in their next game AND some help to prevent a trip back home by week’s end, and were in disarray quite literally from front to back on the pitch before any of the weekend’s melodramas.Friday then brought another pair of disappointments for the European glitterati. Germany started the day with a hapless performance in a 1-0 loss to Serbia. It was highlighted by an early red card to Miroslav Klose, a horrible missed penalty by Lukas Podolski, and the fourth-most yellow cards ever in a World Cup Finals match (eight).

It was followed by the 90-minute snooze fest that was England-Algeria. (Seriously, I fell asleep twice during the game. I’m sure some of that was recovery from the adrenaline-fueled roller coaster provided by the United States and Slovenia, but it still wasn’t for the faint of heart.) To their credit, both teams did have a desire to go forward, but it was in equal measure with their inability to do anything once they got there.

The Netherlands managed to avoid the hoodoo that engulfed many of their fellow continental powers, but the UEFA underachievers were at it again today with Italy’s ineffectual draw against major underdogs New Zealand in what is likely the most important result in the nation’s footballing history.

The recent outcomes lead me to believe that Portugal carries a huge target on their back in tomorrow’s match with North Korea. Regardless, the trend has been an illustration of everything this tournament can be: a truly global showcase of the best the soccer world—the entire soccer world—has to offer. The parity offers drama and excitement at the group stage; it precludes the diehards and the neutrals from having to wait for the knockout rounds’ world-class competition to enjoy the tournament, bringing it a luster from beginning to end.

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