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Saturday, June 10, 2006

6/10/2006 - Trinidad & Tobago 0-0 Sweden - Party Time For 23 Islands

Two days into the World Cup we've found first of the esoteric heroes that emerge from the group stage: 37-year-old goalie Shaka Hislop, former St. John's All-American Brett Sancho, pacey winger Carlos Edwards and the rest of the Soca Warriors. They didn't exactly win, but victory is relative when you are a Carribean nation of 1.3 million people in the largest sporting event on Earth. It's very relative when you have a defender sent off just after halftime.

I figure I'm becoming something of a connoisseur of great World Cup draws, and while this wasn't quite Ireland-Germany 2002, it wasn't bad. There are dire scoreless draws between nearly equal teams with no interest in attack, and then there are scoreless draws with a hopelessly outmatched underdog, one goal under seige, heart-stopping shots launched every minute or so, and only the occasional hopeful riposte from the beseiged serving to relieve the tension.

This was the latter. Swedish attacks were constant, probing the packed T&T backfield almost constantly, but Sancho, who was everywhere, removed seemingly half of the danger, leaving the other half to be squandered by the Swedes or snuffed out by Hislop. Still, it was only a matter of time before one of the guys who play for Arsenal or Barca took the St. John's All-American and broke him, then blasted it past a helpless Hislop.

But each shot that went ten feet over the bar or directly into the seemingly magnetized gloves of Hislop got the Soca Warriors closer. Late in the game, Edwards put in an audacious in-the-box tackle on Arsenal's Freddie Ljundberg as he bore down on goal. As the ball popped off Ljundberg and squirted harmlessly to Hislop, a light -- sure, a gray one -- appeared at the end of the tunnel. By the end of the game each kick and throw from T&T was launched farther away from their net than the last in the vague hope that maybe the damn thing won't come back this time.

It did though, borne on the feet of increasingly desperate blondes. By stoppage time, the Swedes looked at panic-stricken as T&T did in the first minutes. When the whistle went, the roles had been reversed completely: it was the Soca Warriors celebrating with a fervor you won't see exceeded by anyone in this tournament or any other, and Sweden slumping off the field, defeated. Relatively.

Sort Of Upsetting Bullets:

  • Adding to the weird saga of Hislop -- dragged into the game at the last possible moment and uncommented upon by the announcers until 15 minutes into the match -- in my world only: I had hired the guy as a coach in the game of Football Manager I had been playing. This only increased my ardor for a T&T victory-like substance as Shaka, blessed with the sacred "20" in 'keeper coaching, had turned my young goalies into robotically efficient killers.
  • England striker Peter Crouch looks more like an ostrich than anyone I have ever seen. This and the promise of a robot dance in the event of a Crouch goal had me rooting for him, and only him, on the England team.
  • What is with that guy's hair on Ivory Coast? It's like, gray.
  • ESPN/ABC's decisions as to who to put in the announcer's box continue to mystify. While Dave O'Brien has been competent on the top team, he lacks the breadth of knowledge someone like JP Dellacamara has.That is a small irritation compared to the color situation, however. The intolerable Marcelo Balboa inflicts his presence upon us when Eric Friggin' Wynalda -- for my money one of the best color guys in any sport -- is relegated to blathering with washed up members of the women's team at halftime.

    Balboa seems like a nice guy, but he has a weird combination of Hubie Brown's sycophantic positivity and Joe Buck's tendency for school-marm lecturing. He offers only rare insight, and even when he says something useful he repeats it eighty-five times. By that point, you're looking for the "strangle" button on the remote.
  • Torsten Frings' audacious cruise missile of a goal in the Cup opener -- a forty-yard rocket that took a sharp right turn after thirty-five of those yards -- presaged a barrage of similarly ridiculous shots from Paraguay and everyone else looking to match it. This has not been a good idea.