By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
NICK HORNBY SAID THAT GOALS ARE EVEN BETTER than orgasms. You know when you're about to have an orgasm, he wrote in Fever Pitch, his memoir of life as an Arsenal fan, but a goal is always a surprise. He may be onto something. You won't see any post-coital sadness on a player's face after he's ripped a shot into the back of the net, that's for sure. Nor will you see him reaching for a cigarette or muttering about "le petit mort" to explain the melancholy that has inexplicably descended upon his soul. And you certainly won't see him fall asleep. On the contrary, the scoring of a goal provokes a flesh-grabbing celebration that has to be seen to be believed.
For every goal celebration, of course, comes the tragic hair pulling and gnashing of teeth that follows the near miss. The French and Argentineans had dozens of those, and it killed them. A weird sort of curse seemed to hang over the co-favorites, causing the ball to crash off the post, the bar, the outstretched foot and hand, or to whistle inches wide of the mark. In Argentina's match against Sweden, the air rang with the sound of shots thudding off thick Nordic limbs. The Argentineans seemed to be not playing against people so much as moving trees. As for the Italians, another traditional power sent home early, they were up against the linesmen, who still haven't got the hang of the offside rule. In their matches with Croatia and Mexico, Italy had three, possibly even four, perfectly good goals ruled offside. Nor were they the only ones harmed by overeager flag-wavers. I'd guess that on average there has been at least one perfectly good goal disallowed per game. On the other hand, if you took away all the goals resulting from undeserved penalties and free kicks, you'd end up with the same number anyway.
This continues to be a terrific World Cup, but it wouldn't be football if there hadn't been some thoroughly boring encounters. Germany's second-round 1-0 victory over Paraguay is an obvious example, but England's 3-0 dismissal of Denmark was also a snooze. I stayed up until 4:30 a.m. to watch it, but after 10 minutes I was falling asleep cross-eyed trying to sort out which of the 44 players on the screen were real and which were shadows. It was only when I watched the rest of the match on tape that I realized my fatigue might not have been due solely to the lateness of the hour. A couple of good passes from David Beckham, a neatly taken goal by Michael Owen, the odd flourish here and there -- that was the extent of it. Overall, it was remarkably bland soccer. If the French were watching, they must have been rubbing their eyes in disbelief. How could they possibly have lost 2-0 to a Danish team as lame as the one on display against England? And how could a defense that would not cede a single goal to the wiles of Zinedine Zidane have allowed a lumbering journeyman like England's Emile Heskey to score?
I have to say I'm somewhat puzzled by England's remarkably smooth passage thus far. Owen has scored one goal in four games, and Beckham is still only half the player he was before he broke a bone in his foot two months ago. England's opponents have also been kind. The Nigerians played against them as if they were hoping to be invited to tea afterward, and the Danes looked as if they'd all taken a big, fat sleeping pill the night before. The Brits did pull out all the stops against Argentina, but they don't appear to have a lot of weapons. What they have is a placidity that seems to have been inspired by their Swedish coach, Sven Goran Erikkson, by all appearances the calmest man alive. Sven's mantra is that the team must always "keep its shape" -- i.e., not allow its players to be pulled out of position by opponents -- and this rather narcissistic strategy has worked for them. But even if it's shapely, it hasn't been sexy.
The Brazilians, on the other hand, have been fabulous to watch, partly because they can't even seem to agree on a shape, let alone maintain one. (They go from a 3-5-2 formation to a 3-2-2-3 or a 1-1-8 or a 0-0-10 according to mood.) But in their second-round match against Belgium, which they were fortunate to win 2-0, their lack of organization was painful to behold. Players were literally bumping into one another in midfield, and at one point right back Cafu could be seen furiously chasing a ball all the way on the other side of the field. And he's the captain. In the end, it took a stroke of genius from Rivaldo, chesting the ball down and swiveling to fire it past the Belgian goalie, to put them ahead in the 67th minute. Ronaldo later added another goal, but the contest was a lot closer than the score line suggests. For the second World Cup in a row, Brazil has put together a collection of brilliant individuals who don't add up to a team.
Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city