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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Playing Against "Africa's Team"

Going into this 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, the conventional wisdom going into the tournament would be that this would be the World Cup where African teams would shine, that an African side would get beyond the quarterfinals, a stage where only Cameroon and Senegal reached in 1990 and 2002.

The conventional wisdom proved to be wrong. Even South Africa, the host nation, failed to qualify-the first time a hosting nation has failed to get out of group play. It should be said that at least South Africa played with a lot of heart, and beat defending World Cup runner's up France(A good group of individuals who behaved like a bunch of bitchy divas in South Africa. The French press has just savaged them for their poor play on the field and their deplorable conduct

The US National Team had to beat Algeria in their last group game to qualify for the last 16. The North Africans showed a great deal of pluck in tying England in the previous match, and showed a lot of fluidity to their game on the counter-attack. Landon Donovan's goal in injury time saved the US's bacon, and gave them the right to face the last remaining African side in this World Cup: The Black Stars of Ghana.

There have been a surprising number of American fans in South Africa, but in Rustenberg, it's a pretty safe bet that the majority of the South African fans-as well as the rest of Africa will be pulling for Ghana. 

The winner of this game will get Uruguay in the quarterfinals. It's a team that defends very well, but does not inspire fear like Brazil or Argentina. Whoever wins this USA-Ghana match will have to like its chances of a possible semi-final. Ghana, it should be pointed out, beat the USA 2-1 at the World Cup 4 years ago. They can play and have a lot of skill. The one saving grace is that they don't have a top flight striker like Cameroon's Samuel E'to or  La Cote D'Ivoire's Didier Drogba.

Of course I am pulling for the US...but there is a part of me that feels like if the US wins, it will really rain on the parade for African football fans. If Ghana wins, it I will be a bit disappointed...but it will be offset by the smiles of African football fans the world over.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bingham Cup 2010 in MInneapolis

This week, the Bingham Cup starts up here in Minneapolis.

Even though I belong to the Metropolis RFC, I felt very strongly about helping out the Minneapolis Mayhem, the hosting club this week. There are players coming here from all over the World.Tonight my wife and I helped out at the Registration area at the Radisson in Downtown MInneapolis. I talked with players from England, France, Denmark, Holland and Australia, to say nothing of players from different areas of the US, like Dallas, Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Chicago, to name but a few.

I work the next 3 evenings at the hospital, but during the weekend, I will be helping out at the National Sports Center in Blaine. I am hoping that for all of the rugby players here in Minnesota, that they all have a good time.

After watching some really mediocre matches from the FIFA World Cup, I am really looking forward to seeing some rugby this weekend.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

England-USA : Christmas Comes Early for the Yanks

Thanks to feeling ill today, I was able to stay at home and O.D on rugby and soccer. I caught France get totally steamrolled by the Springboks from Cape Town, in a serious bit of payback from the beat-down that France put on South Africa in Toulouse back in the fall. I caught part of South Korea beating Greece and Argentina beat Nigeria. I took a nap after the Argentina win and then tuned into England and the USA in their first group game from the FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

Given the remote location of Rustenburg, it's amazing too many just how many English and American fans made the trip. The match had a great ambiance.

On paper, England-USA should be a total mismatch. England has field players who are legitimate stars and  who have sublime skills, like Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard. In the buildup to this game, the American press focused a lot on the "Miracle on Grass" in Belo Horziente, Brazil in the 1950 World Cup, where a rag-tag bunch of semi-professionals stunned a star-studded England side, 1-0. American soccer has come a long way since then-but even the most ardent American fan would be delusional to think that we have as much talent as the English.

It was Stevie G. who gave England a very early 1-0 lead with a typically lethal finish from the Liverpool captain.  England looked  very dangerous when they had the ball in deep early on. The US defense held firm the rest of the match. Tim Howard was fantastic in goal, and Oguchi Onweyu was a force in the central defense.

One of the great paradoxes of the two teams is that England, in spite of it's star power, has had a lot of question marks at goalkeeper since Peter Shilton played for England in the 1990 World Cup. If you look at most of the clubs in the English Premiership, the majority of the starting goalkeepers are not English. The US, on the other hand, have several goalkeepers plying their trade in England. The other thing that the US has going for it, is what they make lack in star-power, they make up in cohesion. It's a team that is better than the sum of it's parts.

In the 40th minute, Clint Dempsey, a Texan who earns his paycheck playing for Fulham in England, hit a low squibber from about 20 yards out that should have been an easy stop for a youth level player...the ball was fumbled and bundled into goal by West Ham keeper Robert Green...who probably wished that the South African soil would have swallowed him up. To be fair to Green, he did make a really nice save on Jozy Altidore late in the game, when the dud with Hull City left Jamie Carragher in his dust, and was able to save the ball with a little help from his right post. I can only just imagine the English press sharpening its knives to savage Robert Green. There are times like this I am glad that I am a nurse and not a high-profile athlete. Thank God I don't have somebody from the Sun or Daily Telegraph waiting to rake me over the coals after a bad shift at the hospital.

In the end, a 1-1 draw was a better result for the US, who had to exorcise some demons from a poor performance in Germany 4 years ago. For England, they should be able to shake this off and qualify for the second round. For the US, they will go from being a heavy underdog against England to being favored against Algeria and Slovenia...will they be able to deal with that pressure? The other question for England will be if England coach Fabio Capello puts Green back in goal for England in their next game against Algeria.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Death of a Wizard...

I have been blogging for awhile now, and I can safely say that I have not talked about Basketball at all at either my current site, or my previous blog site. Today I will make an exception and switch from speaking about the oval ball to the round ball.

Yesterday, John Wooden passed away at the age of 99 in Los Angeles. In this country, his name is a synonym for excellence in college basketball. His teams at UCLA won 10 National Titles in a 12 year period. His UCLA Bruins still hold the record for the longest winning streak in basketball, winning 88 straight games from 1971-1974. He has coached NBA players like Kareen Abdul-Jabbar (who played under the name Lew Alcindor at UCLA) Jamaal Wilkes, Walt Hazzard and Bill Walton. His nickname at UCLA was "The Wizard of Westwood" 

This was a man who considered himself a teacher, first and foremost. After graduating from Purdue University, he was an English teacher and high school basketball coach in his native Indiana. (The only person to be in the College Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and coach) He brought with him to UCLA a little bit of the midwest of the US that emphasized hard work, integrity, and decency. This was a coach who never blew his cool in a game, his players let their game do the talking-you just did not see UCLA players engage in the trash-talking that is such a big part of the game today.  His Athletes also graduated, many achieving great success in a variety of areas that were not even related to basketball. Here are some of his best quotes:  He talked about his Pyramid of Success, with all of the qualities that he felt would make somebody a success in life.

This was a coach who believed so much in the basics that the first thing that he would do every first practice of the basketball season was to teach his players how to put their socks on correctly, without wrinkles. His midwestern reasoning was that if you did not put your socks on correctly, you would get blisters, and that would keep you from being able to play. It was as simple as that. Here is a link for more on this man who was a great coach, teacher and family man.

John Wooden can now be with his wife, Nell, who passed away in 1985. The only woman he ever loved and the only woman he ever kissed.

RIP Coach.