Back a decade or three, American sports fans (and, dare I say it, the flower of the American sporting press) used to characterize soccer (a/k/a The Real Football) as an un-American pastime reeking from scoreless ties (plus the reliance on feet, how grubby.)
However, on Friday, Americans watched a match that was scoreless for 88 desperate minutes – and I think it was impossible to miss the drama.
For the breakfast show, direct from Yekaturinburg (where the last tsar and his Romanov family were executed in 1918, but I doubt the sportscasters made much of that on Friday), Egypt tried to salvage a draw against Uruguay, a perennial World Cup qualifier.
This was a classic World Cup opening match, when panic and caution often collide – four teams playing in their own little playpen, to eliminate one or two teams from the next round.
Uruguay expected to win the match and the group; Egypt wanted to survive, perhaps with 1 point for a draw. This is the format that has produced some yawners between teams that did not want to lose, but this match had a sub-plot: Egypt will then play the two other teams in the group, Russia and Saudi Arabia, not as good as Uruguay. Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive.
I need to add that this four-team group format is about to be scuttled by the friendly folks from FIFA, when they expand their quadrennial jamboree from 32 to 48 teams (worth perhaps an extra $1-billion) when the 2026 World Cup is held in Canada, Mexico and the land of the Big Mac and the infamous 32-ouncer.
For this World Cup, some teams may seem to waltz in the group stage, but nobody wants to play their hearts out and then lose in the 89th minute as Egypt did on Friday, winning hearts but blowing the 1 point.
One yielded free kick, one leap by a Uruguayan player above two defenders, one exquisite header, and Egypt lost the point – but kept a hopeful goal differential – and most likely fans will now root for them to score and win against Russia and then Saudi Arabia. (I am leaving all snarky geopolitical comments out of it.)
Another subplot was that the two managers were geezers – Oscar Tabarez of Uruguay, age 71 and leaning on a cane because of Guillain-Barre syndrome, and Hector Cúper of Egypt, age 62.
Cúper had tantalized fans with talk that Mohamed Salah, the superstar for Liverpool, whose shoulder was tactically mauled by Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid early in the Champions League final, would be ready Friday, but Salah never even warmed up.
Perhaps Cúper was keeping Salah away from Luis Suárez, the Hannibal Lecter of footballers, who has bitten at least three opponents over the years. Suárez flashed his choppers; Salah watched in tears as Uruguay scored late.
The touch-by-touch drama made for compelling soccer, even here in the States. And in the familiar four-team group format, the drama and the tactics are just beginning.
6/15/2018 07:24:37 pm
Every once in a while you see a sporting event that captures your heart and thrills you to the bone and you can’t wait to see if the sports writer of your favorite newspaper can capture it and help you relive it all over again. This is it. Pure, unadulterated red meat for the fan. Documenting the moment perfectly! Great read.
6/16/2018 01:53:31 am
I was really happy to see Tabarez on the Uruguay bench. He is one of soccer's great gentlemen. I met him in early 1990 in Miami, working on a World Cup preview for De Telegraaf, the big Amsterdam newspaper, with our friend Jaap DeGroot, who is now the paper's sports editor. Tabarez was wonderful-unbelievably kind and generous with his time. And of course he's a very good coach. He's been through a lot of tough things lately and it's great to see him there, and to see the affection his players have for him. That said, Egypt is one of "my" teams in this World Cup and I was sorry to see them lose, though the score was a fair reflection of the game. But isn't that Egyptian goalkeeper something?!
6/16/2018 02:29:34 am
6/16/2018 02:39:39 am
Bruce-good call on Pepe, an elegant thug. How many forearms has he dished out in his career? The ref got it absolutely right. And did you see Pepe take his revenge later with a foot stomp on Costa? Should have gotten a yellow for that.
6/16/2018 08:53:44 am
6/16/2018 01:22:12 pm
There was another player worthy of attention in the Iberian Derby, no, not Ronaldo #9 of Brazil 1998 and 2002, but CR7. The video assistant referee showed only that the ref was not clearly and obviously wrong in awarding the penalty and the game-winning* free kick. However, Ronaldo was looking for them and went down far too easily.
6/16/2018 01:57:24 pm
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“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.