It's getting close to the uber-amazing Germany/Spain World Cup 2010 semifinal, but I wanted to throw out a few LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON LEBRON.
Sorry folks, this last month I've watched so much ESPN I nearly felt I was under company policy to pretend to care about this, frankly, nauseating NBA free agency period. No sense getting in a huge rant here, but does the NBA warrant this kind of attention? Do you even know any diehard NBA fans? I'm talking people that watch all 82-regular season games from start-to-finish? (I might know one -- at best.)
All I'll say is this. Sports do exist in a vacuum, so the fact that the economy is in the toilet doesn't really apply but ... are we okay to live in a country/world where Joe Johnson is being paid A TENTH OF A BILLION DOLLARS!!!! To what, lead his team to fourth place in the Eastern Conference?
When teams clearly check out and take off not only regular season games, but playoff games (think teams up 2-0 to start a series in Game 3), I mean, I just can't take the NBA seriously regardless of the breathless hype it receives.
To quote an old "Seinfeld" line, "That Michael Jordan is phony."
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With three teams left, thought it would be interesting to break down composition of the Dutch, Spanish and Germany sides.
Germany is the most straightforward for this analysis. Eight Bundesliga clubs -- Schalke 04, Hamburg, Hertha Berlin, Stuttgart, Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen, Köln and Bayer Leverkausen. In coach Joachim Löw's starting XI, up to seven different clubs have been represented. Bundesliga champion Bayern leads the way, topping off at four -- Philip Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Mueller and Miroslav Klose.
From a club level, the talent is spread out, but the players get enough time either through qualifiers, major tournaments or U-23, etc. matches to build a cohesion and team ethos.
The Dutch are a little different, since the Eredivisie isn't what it once was, or specifically Ajax is no longer pushing for the UEFA Champions League title on a yearly basis.
Still, the roots of the core players from this Dutch team is spread out evenly among the "Big Three" Dutch clubs: Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV. (Sorry, AZ, you don't make the cut here.)
Players from the Ajax system: Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, Johnny Heitinga and Nigel de Jong. Gregory van der Wiel and Maarten Stekelenburg still play at the Amsterdam giants.
Players with Feyenoord ties: Robin van Persie and Dirk Kuyt.
Players with PSV ties: Arjen Robben and Mark van Bommel.
So even if the Dutch are spread out like high-priced mercenaries across Europe's biggest clubs, they still have some ties that bind. Plus, fans from across the small low country can root for the Oranje since chances are their favorite club team has some representation at the World Cup.
Meanwhile, Spain is fascinating.
At the World Cup Vincente del Bosque has essentially started the Barcelona All-Stars, but instead of Lionel Messi he has (an out-of-form) Fernando Torres and a couple Real Madrid leftovers.
Eight clubs -- six Spanish (Barca, Real Madrid, Valencia, Villareal, Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao) -- are represented by Spain's side in South Africa.
The proffered starting XI has five Barcelona players -- Carlos Puyol, Gerard Pique, Iniesta, Xavi and Sergio Busquets -- playing, and six if you count David Villa who signed from Valencia before the Cup. You could even count Cesc Fabregas, whether or not he joins the Catalans from Arsenal, since he was a Barcelona youth player.
What's truly fascinated me is that Puyol, Iniesta, Xavi, Victor Valdes, Busquets and Pedro have never played for any other club but Barcelona. Throw in Pique and Fabregas, both reared(*) in the system before English clubs plucked them away and this is one homogeneous team.
(*) Not a double entendre
It speaks also to the fact that La Liga might be massively overrated, too.
Twelve of the 23 players are from either first place Barca or second place Real. Third placed Valencia, since it was massively indebted, has sold both its players -- Villa and David Silva. Fourth placed Sevilla has just one player -- Jesus Navas. Atletico Madrid, which finished 11th, but won the Europa League, sent zero players to the Spanish side.
Not sure if there's many conclusions to be draw from this. Barcelona, after all, might be the best team in the world this decade. Who would ever want to leave? Oh right, you did Mr. Fabregas.
Bottom line, someone at the Spanish Federation better make sure Catalonia never gains independence.
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A couple odds-and-ends for you to chew at lunchtime...
* It was hard to watch Uruguay and the Netherlands and not think the USMNT should have figured out a way to be in that game. The U.S. and La Celeste were fairly comparable. Both were hard-working, gritty teams with a talismanic superstar shouldering the scoring load, Diego Forlan/Landon Donovan.
Without Luis Suarez in the semifinal, we saw Forlan try to do it all for Uruguay. Would Donovan have been able to do the same if, say, Clint Dempsey missed a big match?
In the end, Uruguay was a solid, if not spectacular team, which rode some big breaks to the semifinal. When the shades of fortune turned -- all three Dutch goals hit the post -- they were finally knocked out.
Either way, La Celeste brought "popped collars" to the World Cup, which I suppose is some sort of an accomplishment.
* I'm sure it's been mentioned elsewhere, but did Roger Federer blame his Wimbledon loss on the "Write the Future" Nike ad where he plays ping pong vs. Wayne Rooney?
* Glad to see the Dutch WAGs make multiple appearances Tuesday. Surprised that the UK version of Bravo hasn't started a show called, "WAG Wars" or something to that effect. Who knows, maybe it has already and I'm just lucky I don't know it exists.
* Robin van Persie's son is named Shaqueel. Form your own conclusions/jokes.
* If you watch Wesley Sneijder's goal vs. Uruguay again, you'll see him calling for the ball for about 30 seconds, finally before cutting in front of Dirk Kuyt to take it and score off a deflection. Sneijder is lucky it was Kuyt, not another teammates, because he might have triggered a fist fight considering how self-centered most of the Dutch attackers seem to behave. Kuyt is just too darned nice to probably have even noticed it happened. Wesley, at least buy him a Baby Ruth to apologize, okay?
* Sneijder ... strange tournament for the Dutch No. 10. He's obviously the fulcrum for the Netherlands and it's best/stand-out player. Sneijder isn't dominating the ball, making tons of passes and orchestrating the game.
Instead, cuing the old Joey Styles ECW voice(*) been, "Hiiiigh Innncicent."
(*) Sorry for the ultra-obscure wrestling reference. Hope a few Philly readers appreciate it.
According to Otpa, Sneijder has five goals on seven shots. Sneijder is simply making things happen. Can't fault him for that, now can we?
If the Dutch win, he gets the Golden Ball. But will we look back at the 2010 World Cup and say it belonged to Sneijder? Doubt the Dutch will care.
* Threw this out on Twitter yesterday, Giovanni van Bronckhorst's thunderbolt is a Top 3 goal at this World Cup. It's not however quite as sick as Arie Haan's missle from 1978.
* Suffice to say, the Mourinho Magic is on full display in the Dutch camp considering the play of Sneijder and Robben(*). Don't forget, back when he still had hair and played (occasional between injuries) for Chelsea, Robben tore the Prem a new one.
(*) Sounds like a comic book duo, doesn't it?
* Miroslav Klose is one goal from tying Ronaldo at 15 for the all-time World Cup lead. Just remember, Just Fontaine scored 13 -- all at the 1958 Cup. Incredible.
* Finally, could there be a bigger contrast in coaches today with Spain/Germany? As my dad puts it, "Who's the guy that coaches Spain? ... He looks like a coach." With his "buffo"/Stalin 'stache, Vincent del Bosque does indeed look the part.
Meanwhile, Joachim Löw is clearly positioning himself as an over-40 Milan runway model. His "lucky" blue v-neck has even become a story.
Only at the World Cup, boys and girls.
Still sticking with Germany winning 2-1. Predicted the Dutch to be Argentina in a rematch of the 1978 final before the World Cup started. Now I'll amend it to a replay of the 1974 final. Looking for a Xs and Os breakdown, as always consult Zonal Marking.
As much as I'd love people to start digging up facts on the Eighty Years War, and as much as I'd love to hear the words "Hapsburg Dynasty" tossed out on ESPN, I'll stick with Germany/Netherlands in the final. There's a little bit of history there, methinks.