This four-day time off for good behavior is welcome. You could watch the third-place match, which I never do, but I did watch one on tv in 2002 -- outsider Turkey beat host South Korea, 3-2 -- two delightful teams -- and then Turkey did one of the nicest and wisest things I have seen: the Turkish players invited the South Korean players to take a victory lap with them. Very cool.
But journalism goes on. I don't have anything smart to say about the final, except that I think France has more weapons and Croatia has edginess and Modric. Over to you.
Some colleagues must type, and type. Bloke with the Guardian wrote about the Fox coverage, mostly in studio. Wasn't impressed. And chap with Newsweek wrote about Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated, one of the major voices in U.S, soccer, making a tweet about how Americans asking good questions at the World Cup. (Grant!!!! Tell me you were punked by the creep Sacha Baron Cohen.)
To be sure, American writers don't cheer -- when Our Lads make it. But we in the fake-news deep state need to be cool these days. It's so easy to get targeted with the most horrible of all descriptions: Trumpian. We have to be cool til this moment passes.
(The links to the two articles, courtesy of my Arsenal pal:)
* * *
My previous post:
If a neutral spectator at home can be exhausted after watching 120-plus minutes, imagine how weary the players feel.
Croatia and England ran and jostled and kicked and jostled some more on Wednesday; many of them seemed to be running in quicksand near the end, but the English quicksand was more treacherous, somehow.
To the soccer fan, this is the essence of the sport: well-conditioned athletes (just look at them) going hard for two hours. This is why soccer mandates a penalty-kick shootout if the lads cannot break the draw within two hours. That is hard work out there but it is not supposed to be water-boarding.
Croatia earned the 2-1 victory by coming from behind and winning its third straight extra-time match. Theoretically, this means Croatia will be more tired than France, which will have an extra day's rest when they meet in the World Cup final on Sunday.
I'm so exhausted -- particularly after watching the hideous Mets in person Thursday night -- that I welcome comments, predictions, critiques from out there.
Even without a real rooting interest, it is hard work watching these people go at it, with exquisite skills, at full tilt, with the other side whacking away at them.
The man-of-the-match (a quaint soccer custom) must surely be the physio who worked on Mario Mandzukic when the Croatian stalwart was lugged off the field in extra time. Somebody pounded and prodded and stretched whatever hurt him, and Mandzukic hobbled back on the field -- and shortly afterward in the 109th minute he came up with the ball near the goal and flicked it in.
The other man-of-the-match is the photographer just behind the portable barricades behind the goal. When the Croatian celebration swarmed toward the stands, it toppled onto the man with the green bib. Several Croatian players hugged him and apologized -- and kissed him. Neat. (I thought about my pal, John McDermott, a frequent contributor to these Comments, who was in that World Cup mosh pit for decades. How many World Cups, John?)
My England-fan pals have been muttering about Raheem Sterling's lack of a goal for the nation since 2015, but the brain trust had him running the 60-yard dash early and often, getting behind the Croatian defenders.
England scored on a gorgeous Beckham-esque free kick by Kieran Trippier in the fifth minute, and Sterling gave Croatia fits -- for 30 minutes. Then England ran out of petrol.
The Croatian players were cold and hard and covered Sterling's lanes, and the game turned, and England never got back into any flow. Harry Kane looked like any bloke plodding off to work in the dark and satanic mills.
England did not have a playmaker; Croatia had Luka Modric. It was not one of his more spectacular games; all he did was keep the defense in touch with the offense.
English legs got thick; so did imaginations. It took 120 minutes -- more like 130 with stoppage time. That is a lot of running. Some musty old Americans still maintain it is not a proper sport because the players don't use their hands. (They do use their hands to tug jerseys. Does that count?)
That Croatian physio better get busy from now through Sunday. The English players soon have a few weeks off before next season starts. Tough sport, soccer.
7/11/2018 09:28:28 pm
Agreed on all accounts, including the photographer buried in the celebration scrum. I was rooting for England, and I think they had the ability to outplay Croatia, but they didn't! Perhaps it was a deliberate strategy to abandon the possession-and-play-out-from-the-back strategy that saw them this far. They resorted to old-fashioned English Route 1.
7/12/2018 08:44:37 am
Andy, true, Kane was playing back, but that only spoke to England's lack of playmaking. He's better free-lancing and looking for the ball rather than handling it. GV
7/11/2018 09:43:10 pm
I was rooting for England-France in the finals and perhaps for England to take it home but this English team though not lacking in talent was simply outplayed for the duration. After scoring the first goal they sat on it and their level of play went down a notch or two.
7/12/2018 08:45:52 am
Hello, first time commenting here? Thanks. You're right, the wind just shifted after 30 minutes. Different game, GV
7/12/2018 06:20:45 am
Last minute menu adjustment saw chicken being grilled instead of fish being fried. Perhaps England's disappointing finish was my fault? I wonder how Croatia's frantic energy will hold up to France's poise.
7/12/2018 08:41:58 am
Anyone else see Luka Modric as a soccer version of Steve Nash, hairstyle and all?
7/12/2018 02:20:19 pm
I bet Nash is watching. He was a regular in L'Angolo, late lamented Italian place in the Village, during 2006 World Cup.
7/12/2018 08:48:32 am
Mendel: you threw the English off their feed, somehow. I will say this, Croatia's tough guys will try to agitate and muscle the French. Maybe Slava Bilic will come out of retirement and try to provoke somebody with a dive.
7/12/2018 08:46:58 am
I would advise the French coach to paint a target on Lovren’s back and inform the referee to watch that guy. He is more assassin than defender. I’ve seen two full Croatian games and I just don’t like the way they play. Reminds of a Connecticut team called the WWF.
7/12/2018 08:55:14 am
Brian, I just this second typed my response, similar to yours in a way. Croatia is (are?) tough. I describe them as cold and hard, and they are. Very little collegial, which you see in many WC matches, club teammates acknowledging each other without letting up. (Greitzmann vs. Uruguay, prime example. But teams can use a tough guy -- Charles Oakley was bodyguard for Jordan first, Ewing later. Croatia just happens to have a bunch of them. GV
7/12/2018 10:12:21 am
I can’t deny that Oakley was great because he was MY sonofabitch. But I still think he had a code lacking in a guy like Lovren. He wouldn’t help an opponent up off the floor and would stare down any rookie on his team who did. That ‘s different from stomping your cleat on an opponent’s ankle, kicking him in the shin on his way down, and then saying something “nice” to him as you help him up. That’s the difference between Shinola and the other stuff. Sorry for being an Old Guy. 🦖
7/12/2018 11:09:46 am
Is there a term for it when a person, “four score+“ becomes a “beautiful game” addict, suddenly. Peggy and I put away the marvelous Netflix international series and watched the entire game on rebroadcast, (in French), last night. I determined I would root for whoever got behind by one goal. Peggy leaned toward the Croats all the time. 130, some-odd minutes later, we were smiling, who knew?
7/12/2018 02:26:00 pm
Peggy-the-Quaker proves the point: not that hard to get the point of soccer. (I took my wife and college-age daughter to a match at Sparta Prague few decades ago....Their joint reaction: Those guys are in great shape.) The game also not hard to appreciate. I know some old (emphasis on old) sportswriters who work hard to miss the point. Stuck.
7/12/2018 11:55:29 am
Great summary of the game and interesting comments.
7/12/2018 12:08:49 pm
I am concerned for George, come Sunday. Surely he will not write daily updates about MLB. Perhaps we can each suggest a muse...
7/12/2018 02:28:27 pm
Mendel: Actually, in three hours I am heading to someplace in Queens where some live event is taking place. Since the Mets were disbanded a month ago, I cannot imagine where I am being escorted. I used to enjoy the Mets.
7/12/2018 09:16:37 pm
Running late on the Flushing Line from work to the car at Mets Ballyard, there were still some fans arriving at 8. Beautiful night for a ballgame.
7/12/2018 12:15:05 pm
It was a classic "old pro" boxing match with the seasoned fighter coming on at the end and when it counted. Modric was the difference - but not alone. In addition to others, Atletico Madrid's Vrsaljko (who was not predicted to play due to fitness. Should be a great final - can't imagine either team losing. Thanks as always for the coverage.
7/12/2018 02:36:35 pm
Michael: It is fun to see "your guys" in a re-mix on national teams. I only knew Modric and Rakitic, whom you see during the season. I am just now getting to appreciate some of their tough guys.Thanks, I just try to distribute the ball here. We got lots of good wings and strikers...GV
7/13/2018 01:03:44 am
To think that I knew him when he was simply one of us, another member of the press crew here in El Salvador. That was back in the day -- waaaay back. A Salvadoran, he eventually got the job as AFP photographer here. He was good, moved on to Mexico, became head photographer at AFP there. I hadn't seen him for a long time till yesterday, when I spotted him on the ground, dodging - or trying to dodge -- the joyous Croatian players who were hurling themselves here and there, celebrating Mario Mandzukic's goal. Yes, that's right: it was Yuri Cortez -- 100% Salvadoran, but now, as well, an "honorary Croatian" -- who got swarmed over and then bowled over by Croatia's players.
7/13/2018 07:04:43 am
That you know him is such a great small world story. He looked so happy. It was a great moment. To think how technology links these parts: El Salvador, Croatia, Russia and The Queens (among other places)!
Comments are closed.
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.