I just spent the weekend in piedmont Virginia, and am about to decamp for the mountains of Montana, two places where "football" involves permanent brain damage rather than fake injuries; "Uruguay" is a misspelled text message from one seventh grader to another; and "Wesley", "Robin", "Bastian" and "Sergio" aren't athletes but members of another durned queer ensemble that's corrupting the moral fiber of this great nation.
Some final scraps of fact and opinion to chew on as the semifinals kick off this afternoon:
* Game Picks! My game picks have always been spotty this tournament, but until last week I could at least take solace that my larger "coldblooded" narrative-picks looked excellent: Africa was struggling, South America surging, the USA stronger than expected, Spain in a semi-funk. Now even those themes -- and the idea of a Brazil-Argentina final -- are pretty much out the window.
In the games to come, I'll say Netherlands 1, Uruguay 0: the Uruguayans, as they did against France, to come out largely hoping to earn a draw, with an outside chance at a counterrattack goal. Against a determined Dutch side, though, and without captain Lugano, I think a crack will emerge. But maybe only in extra time, and surely after long spells of cagey, soporofic midfield passing.
In game two, let's say Germany 3, Spain 1. I'll be pulling for the Spaniards, and I do think there's a non-trivial chance that this will be a 4-3 classic. There's also, of course, a non-trivial chance that it will be a major-power 1-0 snoozefest, a la their Euro 2008 meeting. But in the end I think the most likely outcome is another decisive German masterpiece. After the Argentina game, I don't think I can pick against them again. (The weight of history in a Germany-Netherlands final would, all by itself, produce a 3-0 Germany victory.)
* The #1 Most Dispiriting Play in a Soccer Match, which I am sadly unable to unveil in a post of its own, is the Penalty Kick. Not just the questionably awarded penalty kick, or the penalty kick shootout -- although those generate a special kind of queasy malaise -- but the entire concept of the penalty kick itself. I'm against it. The consequences of a simple foul in box are either too dire (should a clumsy leg chop, 16 yards from net = 80%+ chance of a goal?) or not dire enough (e.g. the Uruguay-Ghana game). Officials know this, and the practical result is that many real-but-not-goal-denying fouls are not called, and when they are, it often feels more like caprice than real justice. I don't necessarily have a solution to this problem, but I wonder if a penalty situation with a 50% conversion rate -- like a breakaway where the goalie can move off his line? -- might generate a fairer set of outcomes. Either way, I dread all games decided by penalty decisions, either as a tiebreaker or in the run of play. And, sadly, they occur all too frequently in the Cup knockout stages.
* I don't have time for official doppelganger pictures, but does Lukas Podolski give anyone else a slight Sam "Avatar" Worthington tingle?
* Finally, Cate Styer writes in to remind me of the classic English definition of a soccer match: "Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win." Wise words for this tournament, and another reason why, despite their youth and their panache, I'll be rooting against them.