Robbie Rogers, Photo with Permission of John McDermott
Judging from the lovely messages
Robbie Rogers has received, his friends and teammates care for him and would surely welcome him back.
Rogers needs to work out the complications from his coming out
the other day, and most of us have no idea what that involves.
He is part of the new generation that has been around gay issues from the start – friends who had gay parents, friends who came out, people who had the comfort to live their lives more in the open, plus all the references in pop culture that were not there in past generations.
It’s easier now, even if incrementally. The older generation still gets a little nervous when the subject comes up; the intolerant religious flank is watching a new generation pay no attention.
Rogers has already scored and created important goals for the national team through his ability and instincts. He is only 25. When the time comes around again, it would be wonderful if he played the sport at which he excels.
He also could contribute something vital: he could be the first openly gay male in one of America’s major leagues. Rogers could come home, to the right team in Major League Soccer, which has enlightened leadership that enforces penalties on homophobic slurs. That league will not permit ugly stuff from the crowd like the chants Rogers could expect if he stayed in England. (Ask Tim Howard about the lyrics he hears making fun of his very mild case of Tourette’s syndrome
My guess is that the time is right to openly welcome a gay player in an American league, as has already happened on the women’s national soccer team. Megan Rapinoe, one of the best and most popular players, came out a year ago. For that matter, her coach at the time, Pia Sundhage, one of the more mature and interesting leaders, is gay. The world did not end.
The pressure would be considerable in a male league, from media scrutiny, from fans, probably from some conservative fans and sponsors and the inevitable religious groups. Blazing a trail as a gay player would be challenging, but then again so was sitting at lunch counters for blacks in the 1960’s and so was playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers for Jackie Robinson in 1947. It’s a different time.
Those sweet messages to Rogers from his pals tells me they already get it, and will be there if he decides to play again. I hope he does.
Your comment is welcome.
Move Over, You Goofy-Looking Ball.
Feeling smug on Sunday evening, I worked on a project that was due. (Retirement is hell.) I came down at 10 PM and, doggone, the Super Bowl was still on. What did I miss?
Thanks to the blackout, I got to see most of the last quarter, and came to this conclusion: the officials were quite right not to call pass interference on the last desperate play
Not that any sport wants situational officiating, but interference would have to be blatant to be called on the last fling downfield – arms being yanked out of their sockets, a kung-fu kick to the ankle, stuff like that.
Of course, the receiver and defender are going to be getting physical with each other in that spot, but that was no time to over-react.
All day Sunday, I was looking forward, as I always do around the Super Bowl, to an outbreak of pitchers and catchers to make me feel warm all over. This week there is something even more immediate – the U.S.-Honduras World Cup qualifying match in San Pedro Sula on Wednesday at 4 PM, eastern time.
The match is being carried on something called BeIN which is not included by my carrier. Looks like I am going to have to find a pub that carries this BeIN.
Some friends are upset because the U.S. looked so miserable in that 0-0 draw with Canada in Houston last week. I can only say that match had nothing to do with World Cup qualifying. It was the equivalent of a baseball spring training game, when the regulars don’t quite make the bus ride. In other words, it was a scam on paying customers. Michael Bradley is in Honduras. One Keano glare
from him, and intensity will rise.
In the meantime, there are reports of hundreds of matches being influenced in recent years by a gambling ring
out of Singapore.
Soccer is a tricky sport to fix, in that scoring is so random. If you want to get to a player, try the keeper – there have been a few with a gambling jones over the years.
But the person you really want is the ref, that solitary figure running around in the midst of 22 players.
The prominent clubs in Italy were penalized after the 2006 World Cup for a long pattern of influencing matches
. Juve spent a year in Serie B. Officials from the richest clubs were able to request friendly refs for their matches. What did friendly mean? Unclear. But all it takes is one friendly call.
Talk about situational refereeing. When I first started to follow Serie A back in the late ‘80’s, lesser teams would play their hearts out for 70 or 80 minutes against Juventus or AC Milan or Inter Milan, but near the end of the match something
would happen. A Juve player would become entangled with an opponent in the penalty area. The two would go down, both writhing. The ref would come a-running, suddenly energized, point to the little disk 12 yards from the goal. Rigore!
It happened so often that I accepted it as a fact of life in Serie A. I’m looking forward to Wednesday’s match. Officiating in the Caribbean can get pretty situational, too.
Your comments always welcome. GV
Whether putting the ball on the fast-moving toes of Ruud Van Nistelrooy
or Ryan Giggs, or knowing where the cameras were, David Beckham usually had a sense of time and place.
Then he came to America and found a way to make money and grow old, not always gracefully but near the end with even an appealing touch of grit.
Not only that, but he got to dub the voice of the Geico Gecko in the commercials. At least, I think that’s him.
Check out this video where imagination and reality overlap:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Mgne1gQjbo
Beckham is leaving Major League Soccer after Saturday’s championship game between the Galaxy and Houston. (ESPN Broadcast begins at 4:30 p.m.) Beckham has done his six years, longer than I thought he would last, even though he had picked a nice safe aerie above Los Angeles for his family.
But he stuck it out
and last year helped win the championship
, with a hamstring injury that seemed to deepen the lines in his once pretty-boy face. He was hobbled all game, so he resorted to things like tackling opponents in the open field, just like the Yanks do in their funny version of football.
He was probably worth the $32.5-million guaranteed
for five years and the $4-million he endured in his sixth and final season. He earned it, by coming along at the right time in the careful maturation of M.L.S., when he could have talented teammates -- maybe not the level of his old mates at Man U or with the Galácticos of Real Madrid, but players who could do something with the ball when he directed it into their path.
The league has had plenty of aging international stars in the 17 years it has been directed first by Doug Logan and since 1999 by Don Garber -- Carlos Valderrama, Roberto Donadoni, Cuahtemoc Blanco, Youri Djorkaeff
and Lothar Matthaus
, just to name a few.
Most of the old guys looked as if they were here for a nice holiday with the wife or the girl friend, and frankly that’s what I thought of Beckham’s amazing summer vacation when he turned up in 2007.
Some of the old stars became disillusioned almost right away. I remember watching Donadoni
, fresh from AC Milan, coming to the hideous own-goal MetroStars in the first year of 1996. Donadoni was a modest team player, and he would receive the ball on what could have been an attack, except that he would look to the left and find not a great option and he would look to the right and find not a great option. Where were Van Basten or Gullit when he needed them?
However, M.L.S. has gotten better incrementally, in size and attendance
and talent, and Beckham was able to use his aging skills. I know it wasn’t a lot of fun for Landon Donovan and other members of the Galaxy, who were caught in a huge promotion on the run. My friend Grant Wahl wrote about that in a fine book in 2009 called The Beckham Experiment
. But the league and the Galaxy were able to absorb a Beckham era, and see him toss his aging body around in a title game.
Beckham is talking of some further adventure
. My guess is that despite his disclaimers his ego is angling to go back for a farewell tour with Man U. How many people get a flying boot in the face from somebody named Sir Alex and yearn for a cameo return? But Beckham understands that he is part of show biz. He gave as well as he took on this gig.
My wife once flew over Istanbul and ever since then she has yearned to go there. Last week we did.
There are dozens of wonderful things to say about Turkey (and I probably will) but first I need to talk about the frustration for a soccer freak of looking down from a hotel window directly into a soccer stadium -- with no game going on.
Hundreds of ferries and freighters and tugs were moving up and down the Bosphorus as we stared into the beginnings of Asia, but in seven days and seven nights I never spotted a single person moving on the lush lawn of Beşiktaş, one of three Super-division teams in Turkey.
One Sunday there was an Istanbul derby at Fenerbahçe, a main rival, based across the Bosphorus, essentially on another continent.
As a foreigner, you could try going there, somebody advised me, but nobody from Beşiktaş is allowed to travel to Fenerbahçe, and nobody from Fenerbahçe is allowed to attend a match at Beşiktaş. The trip involved a 20-minute ferry ride and a 40-minute walk, but there was too much else to do in this amazing city of mosques and museums, ferries and restaurants, hills and water views.
Soccer was in the news. Fenerbahçe was firing its star Brazilian, Alex
, for unknown offenses. He had been there seven years, a long stay for any international import, but the owner wanted him gone, and now he was.
Soccer always makes friends. Turks reminded me that Brad Friedel, the durable American keeper, spent a formative time with Galatasaray
, the other Istanbul powerhouse. I told Turkish fans how I had covered the 2002 World Cup, when Turkey made its best showing ever, finishing third. People nodded reverently when I praised the great act of sportsmanship, after beating the spirited Reds of South Korea, 3-2, in the consolation match,
how the Turkish players invited the Koreans to take a victory lap with them.
But that was a long time ago. Now Turkey is in danger of not qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
One day in the amazing Cappadocia Region (with its unique geological formations and cave dwellings) we were eating in the celebrated Old Greek House
in Mustafapaşa, where the popular soap opera Asmali Konak
was filmed. Our guide, Gökhan Yaramis, a tall former college basketball player – and a Fenerbahçe man – was joined by his fellow guide Emre Ardik, a Trabzonspor man.
Gökhan and Emre are buddies, who once spent nearly 24 hours driving in a snowstorm to watch their teams in Trabzon, alongside the Black Sea.
“We want our cup!” Emre told me with passion. A year ago Fenerbahçe was implicated in a game-fixing scandal
and was bounced from the Champions League. Sounds like Juventus, the perennial king of the 89th-minute penalty kick, amazing coincidences Sunday after Sunday, decade after decade.
Gökhan never argued. Apparently, the punishment stood on its own. He’s a great guy, an educated guide who could respectfully tell us the history of Christians who lived in caves to avoid the Romans, and could also tell us of the Muslim faith that reached the region centuries later. Later he invited us to his lovely apartment in a pleasant town, so we would know more about Turkish life.
Gökhan put on his yellow and navy blue vertical striped jersey
– and displayed his matching yellow sneakers – his gamer outfit, for watching matches. On Tuesday he would watch the qualifying match on the huge screen in the town square, as Turkey would score first against Hungary, but then lose, 3-1. By that time, my wife and were flying home. There is so much to remember about Turkey; I will always check the soccer scores.
Gökhan Yaramis in Fenerbahçe jersey, alongside his mom's painting/ George Vecsey
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The Dempsey Face; the WeightyCoin
Jürgen Klinsmann has had his ugly moments on the road. I once saw him take a 50-lira coin on the head at Atalanta, while he was playing for Inter, around 1989 or 1990.
Those things were nearly an inch in diameter and weighed two ounces, and a few of them in your pocket could slow you down. The coin that clanged off his head undoubtedly felt like a manhole cover.
Klinsi returned with a mesh wrap over the bloody bandage, and staggered to the end of the match. Welcome to the road.
Now Klinsmann is coaching the United States in its quadrennial adventure in the Concacaf region, which is nothing like what he experienced
on the road with the West German and German national teams.
The mood swings of the U.S. team were evident in the last week when the U.S. lost in Jamaica, 2-1, and then beat Jamaica four days later
in Columbus, Ohio, winning by a 1-0 score after overwhelming Jamaica in the first half.
It was obvious from watching Wednesday’s match that U.S. is not the same squad without Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley, who were injured for both matches. The rare home-and-home format is an inequity in the qualifying round because it penalizes a team twice if its star player, or players, cannot make it against a formidable opponent. Although, in Concacaf, all road games are formidable.
The U.S. survived at home without the practiced explosiveness of Donovan and the intense control of Bradley at midfield.
The highlight of the match was Clint Dempsey’s rubbery face as he taunted the Jamaican players, twisting his features into more expressions in a few seconds than an old Vaudeville comic could do. Check out the video at: http://i.imgur.com/DGYZE.gif
I must admit, I had never heard of Graham Zusi, who replaced Bradley on Wednesday and took command. Turns out he is a stalwart with Sporting Kansas City. It is impressive that Major League Soccer can send a home-grown player right into the starting lineup of a must-win qualifying match. The league continues to grow and play a role in the development of U.S. soccer.
Now the U.S. must play at Antigua and Barbuda on Oct. 12 – Columbus Day; supply your own jokes – and then play host to Guatemala on Oct. 16. Klinsmann is no fool. He is learning what Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley knew from experience in the American program – take nothing for granted in Concacaf.
The mood swings from road to home matches are a reminder that U.S. soccer is very much a work in progress. The mood against Antigua and Barbuda will not be as hostile as the receptions in Mexico or Guatemala or Costa Rica, where the fans are intense and some of the calls mysterious and strange objects fly out of the stands, although not necessarily those old 50-lira coins.
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What's in a name? Hulk, left, and the Brazilian star known as Michael Jackson, above, now a coordinator of women's football for her national federation.
There are millions of reasons to love Brazil – Sonia Braga
, for sure, plus the throaty way Brazilians speak Portuguese, Brazilian music from Villa-Lobos to Tom Jobim, feijoada
, Brazilian football fans, Brazilian football nicknames, and then good old joga bonito
Being emotionally acknowledged as the best in the world, based on the record and the way Brazilians carry themselves on and around the field, is mostly a blessing, but this superior image can also be a burden.
Everybody wants to knock off Goliath, even a nimble and attractive one.
The Brazilians were a moving target again on Saturday as Mexico outwilled them, 2-1, in the gold medal match of the Olympic tournament. (At which point the Games ended for me, except for those highly entertaining clips of Usain Bolt. Time to get back to baseball and joga bonito of all nations.)
The Brazilians wanted this title badly, never having won the Olympic gold medal. The nation put together a squad that included three allowable over-23 players back in June and prepared hard for this tournament. But Mexico came into Wembley with the grim mission and skill that has often not traveled well from Azteca.
The only category Brazil won was nicknames, employing reserves known as Hulk (in English) and Pato (which means Duck in Portuguese.) That's what it said on the back of their classic yellow jerseys.
Those are the football names of Givanildo Vieira de Souza
and Alexandre Rodrigues da Silva
, opposites in physique but teammates in odd nicknames. Brazil has a long tradition of giving nicknames to its sporting heroes. (In the '80's, its star basketball gunners were Oscar and Hortencia, their given names.)
Brazil football had Pelé and Garrincha in the long-ago past, and when I started following in the early 80’s it had Sócrates
(one of his many classical given names
) and Falcão (I always assumed this wavy-haired bird of prey was named for the way he soared but in fact it was his last name.)
Then there was Alemão
, the Portuguese word for German, who was called that because of his light hair and complexion and also for his efficient work at midfield, or so I was told.
And who can ever forget the mainstay of the emerging Brazilian women’s teams of the 1990’s – Mariléia dos Santos
, who sported the name Michael Jackson on her jersey long enough to score a reported 1574 goals. I saw her play a few times and never saw her perform the moon walk – or score, for that matter; Brazil had better players – but now she is the coordinator for women’s soccer in the Brazilian federation, having a far better middle age than her male namesake.
On Saturday, Hulk came on early in the disastrous final. British broadcaster Arlo White said it was pretty apparent why he got his name – the man’s shoulders and chest swelled out his No. 12 jersey. (His father was said to be a fan of the television series, and the son wound up having large pecs.) The Hulkster was mostly ineffective until extra time when he scored a goal and nearly set up the tying goal.
Another sub was Pato, who does not waddle or quack, but does come from the town of Pato Branco, which means White Duck.
With their wonderful nicknames, the Brazilians now must prepare for the 2014 World Cup, when they will be hosts and once-and-future favorites as well as beloved symbols of the world’s game. That’s not a burden, is it?
Have I forgotten any epic Brazilian nicknames?(NB: In my earlier version, I called Pato's home town Prato Branco, which would mean White Plate. He's from Pato Branco, of course. My fault. One of the flaws of Underwear Guys filing precious little essays untouched by human or even editor hands. GV)
See you again in the 2015 WWC
The hard part of watching the Japanese and Americans battle for the Olympic gold medal on Thursday is knowing there is no sustaining model for big-time women’s soccer.
The 2-1 victory by the Americans was terrific television, just like matches last Monday, last July, in 1999, in 1996. But two American professional leagues have failed since the United States allegedly discovered women’s soccer during the Summer Games in Georgia in 1996.
NBC did right by the women in this Olympics. I can recall an American soccer federation official, Hank Steinbrecher, screaming at NBC
functionaries right after the 1996 final in Athens, Ga., when the network played catch-up ball in showing the American gold medal celebration when it hadn’t bothered showing the match itself.
''NBC must think the world is full of divers,” Steinbrecher snarled.
In 2001, it was a shock to me when the league known as W.U.S.A.
opened a few miles from my home on Long Island – with tens of thousands of registered female players within driving distance – and Mia Hamm and the best players in the world could not fill a dinky so-called stadium.
That league went down, as so did something called the W.P.S., not because the media did not publicize them but because ratings did not attract sponsors. Apparently, people – girls, women – would rather play soccer than watch soccer. That’s probably good.
Now there is talk about a few teams forming a new league
in 2013 but I will believe it when I see it. To a soccer buff who loves to watch the women’s game, it is sad to think there is no showcase for charismatic players of this generation – Americans like Hope Solo, who made three terrific saves on Thursday, or Carli Lloyd, who scored both goals, or Alex Morgan, who won Monday’s semifinal over Canada with a sensational leaping header, plus that great bridge to the past, Abby Wambach.
Kristine Lilly and Julie Foudy and the rest can be secure in what they accomplished, but Solo and her teammates have earned the right to wear the t-shirts they broke out Thursday that said Greatness Has Been Found. It’s kind of a passive statement, but the point was made. They are the champions, my friends. And the highly competitive Solo can be assured that her three magnificent saves Thursday probably trump anything the resourceful Briana Scurry ever did during the golden age.
Plus, the game itself keeps improving. As great as Michelle Akers was – she’s still the best female player I have ever seen – the skill and tactical level of these players keeps rising.
On Thursday, I saw fine points I don’t think were being performed in 1996 or 1999 (admittedly, memory is tricky.) Megan Rapinoe forwarded a ball with a flick of the back of her head; Morgan chased a ball along the end line and pivoted and blindly centered it to create the first goal; and Lloyd dribbled over 30 yards and split two defenders to find her space for the second goal.
Have the new champions learned from coaching? From competition? From watching the Messis and Cristiano Ronaldos of the world, as I suspect female basketball players have learned from watching the Jordans and Kobes? The women have expanded the art of the possible in their sport.
The new wave has produced three hugely entertaining matches – Thursday’s final, plus Monday’s American victory over Canada, plus last summer’s shootout victory by Japan over the U.S. in the 2011 Women’s World Cup following the terrible tragedy in Japan. The matches were gripping; the players admirable; as an American with friends in Canada and Japan, I could not root in either match. But I do root for women’s soccer.
Sometimes there were tears of rage. Once there was even blood.
Spain had never beaten Italy in regulation time in seven meetings in a major tournament going into Sunday. The only victory
over Italy had come in a penalty-kick in the 2008 Euros quarterfinals when Iker Casillas saved two shots.
It is hard to believe that Spain is the great dynasty for one generation in the history of the sport. Not long ago the Spaniards were seen as under-achievers, long on talent but short on will. I've read articles in Spanish papers back in the day with Spanish observors fretting over a litany of losses in the World Cup and the Euros, brooding if there was something wrong with the way people were raising their sons.
That blather is over now that Spain is the champion of three straight major tournaments, after the 4-0 drubbing of Italy on Sunday in the Euro final. Even if the last two goals were accomplished while Italy was gassed, and short a player because of injury, it was still an overwhelming victory. Spanish players ran and Spanish players passed, and the lines met at the perfect spot near the goal. We are getting used to this art. It is hard to remember the misery of the past generation.
The most painful defeat came in the 1994 World Cup quarterfinals in Foxboro, Mass., when Roberto Baggio scored a late goal for a 2-1 victory. That match ended with Luis Enrique of Spain rolling on the ground after Mauro Tassotti cold-cocked him
in the nose with an elbow.
The cheap shot from Tassotti remains tied for the most vicious play in World Cup history with West Germany’s Toni Schumacher’s human steamroller
hip check that broke the jaw of France’s Patrick Battiston in the 1982 semifinal.
In those primitive times of 1994, the lone-ranger referee, Sandor Puhl of Hungary, got no help from his two sideline assistants and no electronic advisory from FIFA Central on a headset. He had missed the play and could only wonder why Luis Enrique’s jersey was suddenly flecked with blood.
Two sidelights to that ugly moment:
*- By the time FIFA caught up with the play, Italy was through to the finals, and Spain was long gone. But Tassotti received an eight-match suspension for international play, and was never chosen to the Azzurri again. It took Tassotti 17 years to shake hands
with Luis Enrique, before a match in Milan last year.
*- In the video, as the Spanish players tried to alert the hapless ref what had occurred out of his vision, one Spanish player has the name Nadal on his jersey. It is indeed Miguel Angel Nadal
, uncle and one of the great role models for that current Spanish sportsman, Rafael Nadal. And, yes, that is Pep Guardiola, then a Span defender, recently the Barca coach, milling around with other frustrated Spanish players in 1994.
The blood of 1994 was ancient history in Kiev on Sunday. Italy has been a perpetual dynasty since winning its first of four World Cups in 1934. It had a good tournament, in the face of soccer scandals back home after a disastrous 2010 World Cup. But after a long and painful path, Spain is now a dynasty.
The New York Times is running a Goal blog asking readers how they rank Spain with all sports champions.
Here, I want to congratulate Spain for joining the great soccer nations like Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Italy.
Much better to be remembered for rolling past Italy in 2012 than for suffering the cheap shot from Tassotti in 1994.
Your comments are welcome about Spain's coming-of-age. .
Four people from Corona: Marie, Carmela, Omar, Irene.
Mario Balotelli broke down Germany – Germany! – on Thursday.
It was compelling viewing at the center-of-the-Italian universe, Mama’s of Corona, Queens, surrounded by antipasto and cannolis and friends.
Three Italophiles – a local hero named Minaya plus a Blum and a Vecsey -- watched Balotelli grow in stature before our eyes.
As soon as the big dude blasted his second goal against what had been the strongest-looking team in the Euros, his inner knucklehead could not resist, and he whipped off his jersey, the worldwide macho gesture of goal-scorer pride.
Of course, by football regulations, that cost him a yellow card, making him vulnerable to suspension for Sunday’s final against Spain.
Still, Balotelli was an impressive sight, a son of Ghanaian immigrants
named Barwuah, adopted at 18 by an Italian family, displaying his rippling muscles.
“If he scores another goal, they’ll put up a statue of him in Florence,” somebody said.
“Il David Nero,” somebody added respectfully in Italian. The Black David.
The growth of Balotelli in this tournament has been impressive, a tribute to the man himself and also to Coach Cesare Prandelli, who seems to treat him with calm dignity, neither despairing nor fawning. In the quarterfinals, Prandelli sent Balotelli out first for the penalty kicks against England, and the big guy whacked one past his Man City teammate Joe Hart. If the coach thought he belonged out there….
On Thursday we gathered for the semifinal at Leo’s Latticini, also known as Mama’s, at 46-02 104th St., about a mile south and west of the ballpark I prefer to call New Shea.
Ron Blum is a football-soccer expert for the Associated Press; he takes his family to Verona and La Scala every year. I have been an Italy admirer since my first family trip decades ago. And Omar Minaya, son of the Dominican Republic, grew up in the traditionally Italian neighborhood of Corona, dropping into Mama’s
when he could afford a sandwich or a biscotto. Later he played two seasons of pro baseball in Italy, and loves to speak the language.
Minaya, who now lives in leafy New Jersey, and works in the front office of the San Diego Padres, was on a short home visit for his son's graduation. He remains the favorite son of Mama’s, which has two outlets in the Mets’ ballpark. When he worked nearby, he often ducked over to Mama’s for a snack, a chat, a World Cup match.
Anybody who still has a home neighborhood is a lucky person.
Although he left after the disastrous season of 2010, this is the kind of guy Omar Minaya is: last year he escorted his successor, Sandy Alderson, to Mama’s –“just to show him the neighborhood, you know,” Minaya explained on Thursday.
Mama’s remains the way it has for seven decades, with inevitable changes. The matriarch, Nancy DeBenedettis
, passed late in 2009 at the age of 90, but her name lives on.
Get this: the official city street sign on the block now says: Mama’s Way.
And get this: Public School 16, a few blocks away, has been officially renamed. The Nancy DeBenedettis School.
(Read more here about her inspiring American life.)
“I get tears in my eyes when I talk about it,” said Irene DeBenedettis, one of three sisters who operate the little empire on Mama’s Way.
She was showing me a montage in the window, photos of friends and celebrities who have visited Mama’s. (Half a decade ago, Mario Batali, the celebrity chef, paid the huge compliment of dropping in. (“Mama asked him, ‘Who does your hair?’” Irene said, referring to his iconic ponytail
Inside, we were fussed over by Marie DeBenedettis and Carmela Lamorgese, Mama’s two other daughters, and we saw Carmela’s daughter, Marie DiFeo, and her baby, Gina DiFeo, born last Sept. 23, and was wearing an Italia shirt for the Germany match. The staff, from far-flung provinces of Italy, bustled in with cheese, salami, olives, bread, plus pasta with absolutely delicious broccoli rabé, followed by roast beef and potatoes and salad. There might have been a bit of wine, too. Then came the desserts and the coffee.
Before the match, we stood and sang the Italian anthem, Il Canto degli Italiani
(The Song of the Italians), the most merry anthem in the world. Perhaps we were not as passionate as Gigi Buffon, the Azzurri portiere, who bellows the anthem with his eyes closed, but we tried. Then we remained standing for the German anthem. Oranzo Lamorgese, Gina’s grandfather, is originally from Bari but lived and worked in Hamburg and Dusseldorf for a decade and played semi-pro soccer there. He spoke with great respect for modern Germany – and its football squad.
At halftime, Marie DeBenedettis came back and said their deli next door just had a customer – Dwight Gooden himself, buying a hero sandwich. She had invited him to sit with us, but Doc said he was double-parked and didn’t want to get a ticket.
We watched as Prandelli wisely removed Balotelli, to protect him from a second yellow card, to preserve him for the final as the Azzurri outlasted Germany, 2-1,
to advance safely to the finals. Italy has long produced artful midfielders and defenders who specialize in the defensive catenaccio
, the bolt. But now it has a force up front, a striker who is growing in size and tactics, match by match.
The three sisters plied the Italophiles named Minaya, Blum and Vecsey with enough love and goodies to last us until Sunday’s final. Mille grazie, amiche mie.
Oranzo Lamorgese and Gina Watch Balotelli Photos by George Vecsey
There was a great tableau on television the other day when Cristiano Ronaldo asserted himself in the European soccer tournament.
A two-man jury of his peers – Eusebio and Luis Figo – was seen celebrating the goal that would put Portugal into the semifinals. My friend Rob Hughes described
Ronaldo’s match so well in the International Herald Tribune and New York Times.
Figo was leaping into the air as befits a Galactico of the past decade, whereas Eusebio was more earthbound as befitting a deity of the ‘60’s. They have given and suffered in public. Now it is Ronaldo’s turn. By sheer talent and burning will, Ronaldo has become the dominant player – perhaps the only dominant one – of the current Euros. You cannot take your eyes off him.
Italy plays as a unit with masterful passing but no finishing. It controlled the ball for over 60 per cent of Sunday's scoreless quarterfinal with England and had to win it in a shootout.
Germany, which beat plucky Greece on Friday, is a force, free and inventive enough, but depending on a system.
Spain, going for an unprecedented third straight major championship, depends on brilliant players fitting into a balletic order. The short precise passes were beautiful to watch on Saturday during the 2-0 dismantling of France.
The great correspondent Jere Longman writes that Spain is falling short of the high expectations it set. It's hard to tell from the tube, but that's why Jere is there, to get the feel on the ground:http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/24/sports/soccer/euro-2012-critics-point-to-the-flaws-in-spains-art.html
Italy and England, the two old men of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, came into the Euros refitted with old parts and new parts.
New parts contributed two of the most inventive goals of the tournament so far – Danny Welbeck’s backheel flick of a goal for England, Mario Balotelli’s powerful backward cannonball for Italy while out-wrestling an Irish defender.
Welbeck and Balotelli are part of the changing face of European football, black men in a formerly mostly-white world. Both were in the starting lineups Sunday as their clubs figured out how much they needed them in the knockout quarterfinal match between England and Italy. .
Balotelli, greeted by an unusual display of warmth from his Premiership colleagues in the pre-game handshake line, was a tower of frustrated strength, playing against his Manchester City teammtes, Joleon Lescott and Joe Hart, the keeper. He and Hart smiled at each other before Balotelli calmly scored on the first penalty kick.
In a way, Eusebio is the spiritual grandfather of Welbeck and Balotelli.. Born in Mozambique of an Angolan father, he chose to play for Portugal. In the 1966 World Cup
, he was the stately, sturdy core of the team that defeated Pele’s Brazil, 3-1,
in the first round, with Eusebio scoring two goals. Pele and Eusebio on the same pitch. Can you imagine?
In the quarterfinal round, Eusebio was hacked and pummeled by the mystery team from North Korea, caught so vividly in the greatest documentary ever made about soccer -- the classic Goal.
Eusebio responded with four goals within a 32-minute span in mid-match, carrying Portugal to a 5-3 victory
. Portugal lost to the host team England, 2-1, in the semifinals but 1966 was still the high point of Portugal’s international soccer history. A championship in the Euros would bring Ronaldo up to Eusebio’s stature.
Figo was not so lucky. He was aging in the 2002 World Cup
when Portugal surrendered three quick goals to the United States and lost its first match, 3-2, and never reached the knockout range. So now Figo leaps in the air in celebration of Ronaldo.
Well, don’t we all. With his smirks and scowls and self-centered preening – and that is just toward his teammates – Ronaldo is not the most appealing figure in this tournament. Just the best, He can leap like a pro basketball player, making himself dominant in scrums at both ends of the field. He lurks like Maradona did, but can accelerate like a Bo Jackson or Gale Sayers going around the end in American football.
Suddenly he is there. He stunned the very good young Czech defender, Theo Gebreselassie
, son of an Ethiopian-born doctor and a Czech mother, by zooming in for the goal that won the quarterfinal and sent Figo flying and Eusebio beaming.
We will see Ronaldo again in the semifinals against the defending champions. Then Italy against Germany. Lucky us.
(Always happy to have your opinions/reactions/critiques under COMMENTS)
(And just in case you missed these goals, the precious heart of this sport. We celebrate them when they happen.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rs4ahcHc-g http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYKs5VifNGUhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVgjeK_FFcA&feature=related