Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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A Showcase of Everything That Is Wrong With Soccer

If you can’t tell, I love the game of soccer. But had today’s Italy-Uruguay match been the first game I’d ever watched, I’d never watch the sport again. For the match showcased everything wrong with soccer. There were lunatic assistant coaches fighting on the sidelines. There  were first half tactics from Uruguay that included little other than riling up Mario Balotelli in hope that he’d do something stupid, and on the other side the tactics were hardly more sophisticated than simple time-wasting. There were a billion fouls. There were an equal number of flops. And best of all, the game’s superstar had a relapse into his cannibalistic past.

I somehow managed to avoid hearing the score of this game until I got home late this afternoon. I’d been eagerly awaiting watching this particular match for almost a week now. But frankly, I wish I hadn’t watched it. Two weeks ago, I would have told you I was a fan of Italy and Uruguay – that I loved Cesare Prandelli as a coach and that I respected Luis Suarez as a player if not as a person. Now, none of that is true.

That Italy came out with such negative tactics should not have been a surprise given the country’s footballing tradition, but I expected Cesare Prandelli to dare to be different, showing everyone that his Italy side was separate from past ones. I was wrong unfortunately, and we all had to watch Italian players commit foul after foul, only to writhe in pain on the ground when the slightest touch went against them. Their game-plan was clear. If the ball was in the referee’s hand and not on the ground, Uruguay couldn’t score. They were Italy circa 2006 – the team I grew up hating.

Uruguay seemed fine with that type of fight in the first half, knowing they could get under Balotelli’s skin and potentially cause him to lash out. A red card from Italy would allow them a way into the game. While Balotelli managed to leave the first half with only a yellow card, Uruguay’s tactics worked when Super Mario was taken off the field at half. Gone was Italy’s lone goalscoring threat today, as Ciro Immobile looked out of his element. And just when you thought Uruguay was done baiting the Italians into aggressive fouls, Claudio Marchisio went straight over the ball – a clear straight red. Uruguay in the end got what they wanted.

But Italy held strong even with ten men and kept doing their thing. Foul after foul, embellishment after embellishment. It was rather unpleasant to watch, especially every time Giorgio Chiellini writhed on the ground. And then Luis Suarez did his thing in retribution for Chiellini’s acting. No, he didn’t score. He bit him. Yes, Suarez bit someone. Again. How can this ever happen three times? I will never respect that man again. This is Suarez’s third strike.  He can forever be a villain now. For he is certainly no hero any longer.

While Diego Godin’s winning header was an exciting moment for the defender and for his country, I hardly cared who won the game at that point. Both sides had made me hate them with the way they went about this crucial game. I feel for Gigi Buffon, who deserved a better exit than this, but his Italy did themselves no favors with the way they played today. If you play the style they did, you deserve to lose in my opinion.

Lastly, a quick point about Balotelli. He obviously is immensely talented and his goalscoring ability would be a welcome addition at Arsenal. But games like this one  – where he must be taken off for fear of him doing something stupid – show how much he still needs to mature. I’d want him at Arsenal for sure, but much like Roberto Mancini in Balotelli’s Manchester City days, I don’t know if I’d trust Mario in certain matches. He is inherently flammable on the pitch, and his self-destruct button could spell an ugly time for any team that invests too much faith in his supposed new-found tranquility.

Unfortunately, as I choose to watch this game when I got home, I missed the Ivory Coast-Greece match, which shocked me when I saw the score. I can’t believe the Ivorians had such a big let down. For all of our sakes, let’s forget about Suarez and Italy for a while and get back to enjoying this wonderful tournament that surprises us at every turn.


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It Had To Be Him

There was always going to be one hero in Uruguay-England game and it wasn’t going to be Wayne Rooney. That Rooney had gotten his goose egg out of the way with the equalizer won’t be remembered unless there’s an English miracle in the next game. The hero was always going to be Luis Suarez.

As soon as Suarez and Uruguay were drawn alongside England, you knew Suarez would be chomping at the bit to stick one to the British media by breaking English hearts. The only question was whether he’d be fit enough to take part. But as I predicted, Suarez showed up in a big way for this one.

His first goal was too easy. England should not have allowed Edinson Cavani the space to curl in the ball for Suarez, and like last time out, a mistake from a center-back gave Suarez the tiny bit of space he needed. From there, he was never going to miss the free header. His second goal though was both a beauty and terribly defended. Goals that come straight from the goalie should never happen, as Muslera’s punt was simply headed on by Cavani to release Suarez. Someone should have been marking Suarez, for he was the only player who was going to beat England. But once the ball reached Suarez, his class won out, as his first touch and subsequent screamer were near perfect.

This was another instance of England not properly paying attention to the opposing star in critical moments. In their European Championship exit two years ago, it was a lack of attention to Andrea Pirlo that cost them. This time around, it was Luis Suarez. They had to know he was the threat, and needed to properly mark him at the crucial moment. Suarez was limited most of the match by the English defense, but those two lapses gave him just enough space to leave his mark on the game.

To England’s credit, they looked the better side for much of the game. And this World Cup, they’ve looked a talented squad. But ultimately, it’s individuals stepping up to carry a team that count and England lacked that today. While Rooney got his goal eventually, England’s best player, and yes, I mean that, missed two gilt-edged chances that could have swung the game. I truly believe England could make a serious run for major trophies in the next few years, but they will need individuals to rise above their talent level for that to happen.

Love him or hate him, The World Cup will be better for having Luis Suarez fit and firing. His performance against Italy will be vital if the Uruguayans hope to earn a place in the knockout stage. If only 40,000,001 were enough to have brought him to Arsenal last summer.

On another note, I found the usually loveable Ian Darke and Steve McManaman pairing verging on unbearable at times today. I love these commentators. But today, they seemed to let their bias towards England affect the commentary in a negative way. ESPN has done a good job of assembling on-air talent from all the major soccer nations, but having two Englishmen in the booth for such an important match was too much. They kept beating the audience over the head with their criticism of Uruguay’s stalling tactics. Lots of teams do that, but Darke kept harping on it. It even got to the point when he called out Alvaro Pereira for faking an injury when he was nearly unconscious. While Darke apologized for that, he needed to look at a replay before saying what he did. This duo is great. But if I wanted an English bias this strong, I would have found a BBC feed. I’d take this duo any day of the week, but they were too much today.