By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
England‘s victory strengthened the impression that being a favorite isn’t a good idea in this World Cup. Incredibly, France is going home without having scored a goal, Argentina is out and Italy is fighting for survival. Everything is running counter to form. The Brazilians, written off this time around, are playing with passion and flair. Senegal and South Africa, nominally the weakest of the African pool, have outshone glamorous Nigeria and Cameroon. Spain, dismissed as eternal also-rans, were the first team to make it to the knockout stage. Mexico won both its games, while critics‘ darlings Portugal got thumped by MLS upstarts and the Italians fell 2-1 to Croatia. And there have been tons of goals and a wealth of attacking play.
Could it be that attacking soccer is back in fashion? The fact that the English Premier League, a year-round goal festival compared to Italy’s miserly Serie A, is now the most esteemed in the world suggests this might be the case. Perhaps it‘s just that players have become so fit they no longer have to choose between defense and offense: They can dedicate themselves to both with equal enthusiasm. It’s been said of Brazil‘s attack-minded defender, Roberto Carlos, that he uses the left-back position only as “an address at which he can be reached in an emergency,” but those emergencies crop up 20 times a game. Blessed with enormous stamina, he can play two positions at once, and there are lots of players like him. The perfect example of defense turning into offense came in Salif Diao’s stunning breakaway goal for Senegal in its 1-1 tie with Denmark, the best strike of the competition so far. So good, in fact, it‘s hard to believe a better counterattack has ever been seen. Starting with a simple tackle and then a quick pass out by right-back Ferdinand Coly, the Senegalese swept down the field, spreading the ball among them with jaw-dropping precision and speed until Diao coolly slotted it past the Danish goal keeper. At that moment, it was hard to tell an attacker from a defender and Senegal looked like the best team in the tournament.
I’ve never seen a soccer match take place in the midst of a Maoist rally -- and I guess it‘s too late now -- but after watching the U.S. hold South Korea to a draw in front of 68,000 Korean fans, I have a pretty clear idea of what it might have looked like. Rabid nationalism is common to soccer stadiums the world over, but such utter uniformity of expression -- everyone in the place was wearing red and waving a Korean flag -- was new to me. Frankly, it was a relief when the Koreans finally equalized. If they hadn’t, the entire stadium might have committed suicide.
You have to hand it to the Americans: First they stunned a Portuguese side dripping with world-class talent, and then they kept their cool in conditions that might have rattled even the most experienced soccer players. This is shaping up to be the strangest, most exciting, least predictable World Cup in decades. Even if few people in America are paying attention, Americans are playing an important part in it -- which is more than can be said of the French. They were unlucky to lose to Senegal, they were unlucky to only draw with Uruguay, and they were almost laughably unlucky to lose to Denmark. Much the same could be said of Argentina. And they are both out of the tournament.#
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