EURO2004 Update...two games in

Every team has played its second game now. With one game each remaining in the opening round only one team has advanced, and only two have been eliminated.

Group 1
Portugal 2 Russia 0
Spain 1 Greece 1

OK, the Greeks have made some pact with the devil. We expected they'd be eliminated by now, but they lead the group. Not only that, but their final game is against the struggling Russians. Portugal and Spain face off Sunday, and one of them is probably going to be sent home early. Portugal played much better in their second game, but Spain was frustrated by Greece.

Group 2
France 2 Croatia 2
England 3 Switzerland 0

Yeah, France got a gift to come away with the point. Complain all you want, they lead the group with 4 points. England has 3 after the big win. Croatia has 2 points and the Swiss have one. No one is a lock, and no one has been eliminated, but France looks secure because they play the Swiss. Look forward to a great showdown between England and Croatia.

Group 3
Denmark 2 Bulgaria 0
Sweden 1 Italy 1

Bulgaria has been completely rocked in this tournament, and now they've been eliminated. The Scandinavian teams each have 4 points, but Sweden has a large lead in goals scored and goal difference. Italy actually has a decent shot because they play Bulgaria in their last game while Sweden and Denmark must play each other. Italy played well against Sweden and did have a decent offensive attack. But old habits die hard--only one goal, and they gave up the equalizer in the last 10 minutes. The Italians will actually need to score multiple goals and win a game--gasp!

Group 4
Latvia 0 Germany 0
Czech Republik 3 Holland 2

Oh, what a day in Group 4! Congrats to Latvia. I expected them to get pulverised in this group, but they narrowly lost to the Czechs and earned a point against Germany. Latvia was out-shot 23-6! Goalkeeper Alexsandrs Kolinko (pictured) made 13 saves. Wow! Usually a draw isn't something to be proud of, but they should be happy, and the Germans should be pissed that they failed to pick up the 3 points. Even though they are in second now, they can't feel too good.

The Dutch scored twice in the first 20 minutes and really controlled the ball well. But the Czechs are so tough to beat. The Dutch offense went AWOL in the second half, and after they lost a man to a red card, the Czechs exploited it for the game winner. The Czechs have already won the group, so one wonders how hard they'll play against Germany. The Germans need that game, while Latvia and Holland will play in the final game. Should Germany not win, it opens the door for the Holland--Latvia winner.

posted by uberschuck 6/19/2004 11:10:00 PM


College World Series

Well, we've made it to Omaha. The eight teams in the field are an eclectic mix. On one side of the bracket, we have the two upstarts, Arizona and Georgia. If the committee still reseeded teams, they would clearly be the 7-8 seedsin the field, but since the bracket holds regardless of upsets, they will play each other on the opening day of the series. Arkansas, a national seed I criticized, justified their seeding, only to get the #1 Texas Longhorns. Texas is a huge favorite on their side of the bracket.

The other side is absolutely loaded with college baseball royalty. South Carolina and Miami were the number two and three national seeds, repsectively, but they both drew perhaps the best teams not to receive a seed: Cal State Fullerton and LSU. Count it up, and we have four SEC teams, four national seeds (including the top three), and seven of the last nine champs.

So let's get down to the picking. Texas is a clear favorite to make the final best-of-three series. They can pitch lights out, particularly the bullpen. Without Rice, the Longhorns have easily the best pitchign staff in Omaha. They also play stellar defense. So here's the rub, this team lacks top-tier hitting. Thigpen is their only scary hitter, and they rely heavily on little ball and putting runners in motion. They haven't been challenged en route to Omaha, but they'll face a smilar foe in Arkansas right off the bat. The Hogs don't have that great starting ace, but they have a deep pen and a tenacious lineup. They play like the Horns except they just aren't as talented. However, they posted a 5-1 record against South Carolina and LSU, so take them lightly at your own peril.

Arizona can't pitch that well, but they have a lineup without a single hitter below .300. Texas doesn't even hit .300 as a team. They will want to coax Texas into a high-scoring matchup, which is their best chance of stealing some wins. They will not win on pitching and defense. Georgia is a fairly well-balanced team, but they needed some late heroics to beat a pretty flawed Georgia Tech team. I think they are the first to go hit the BBQ. Arizona matches up better with Texas than anyone else on this side, but I see no reason to pick against the Horns.

Fullerton's got the ebst single pitcher in Windsor, but there's not a whole lot behind him. That means bad news for South Carolina, but good news for Miami or LSU. He'll go on Saturday and then they'll pray. By the way, you'd be well advised to not pitch to Suzuki. USC's got a killer roatation and some hitters capable of smacking the long ball, but little depth. If their stars come through, they'll overwhelm you, but this isn't an especially deep team. They have the misfortune of going up against the best pitcher in game one.

Which is great news for LSU and Miami. The winner of this game should be able to get at the back of the rotation of either USC and especially Fullerton. I'll go out on a limb and say the winner of Saturday night's game will not only make the final series against Texas, but win the whole College World Series. LSU and Miami are near mirror images of one another, both have deep rotations lacking a big time ace and both have incredibly deep lineups anchored by stras who can flat out mash. Once other teams exhaust their ace, these two teams will kill you. LSU had a miserable record in Friday games, but won a majority of weekend series by hammering the back of rotations. The difference is the defense. LSU's much better in the field, but their pitchers rely more on balls in play instead of strikeouts. The play of LSU's defense will determine this game.

Screw it, I'm a complete homer, LSU over Texas.
posted by Poseur 6/18/2004 12:17:00 PM

Croatia ties France, gets angry

Baric criticised Danish referee Kim Milton Nielsen for missing an apparent handball by French striker David Trezeguet in scoring the final goal...

"It is hard to talk about the referee, especially as the coach of one of the 'outsider' teams," said Baric. "I think the referees give a little something to the stronger teams. I think both (French) goals came from mistakes which went unpunished."

Man of the match, Croatian stiker Dado Prso, agreed with that view and echoed the criticism of the man in the middle. "I think the referee was not too kind to us. There were French fouls leading to their goals and it was a handball for their equaliser," said Prso.

Baric denied his side are a dirty team, despite picking up nine bookings in two games. "Half the cards were incorrect. Unfortunately, we have been declared as a dirty team."

"Apparent handball" kind of understates it. The only question is whether Trezeguet played the ball with one hand or two. The rest of Croatia's complaints is of the general "we don't get the calls" variety, which is valid, but not hugely significant. The handball was just an awful non-call. The referee ruled the ball played the hand, and not vice versa, but Trezeguet's hands were away from his body, and he most definitely gianed advantage. The non-call cost Croatia the game (as did an own goal in the first half).

Before the tournament, Jason and I argued over France's defense. For the record, they have now surrendered three goals in two games plus two penalty kicks (one was saved by Barthez). The French are not playing stellar defense, but they are getting bailed out by the truly superlative play of Zidane. France is very lucky to have four points right now, as they could very easily have none. However, the reality is that they do have four points, and all that matters in group play is advancing to the knockout phases. they don't award style points. If France realizes they've been lucky and works to improve their form, they are sitting pretty.
posted by Poseur 6/18/2004 12:16:00 PM

Marion vs. the World

The United States Anti-Doping Agency recently gave the triple Olympic champion documents stemming from the investigation into the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative that it believes may implicate her in the use of banned performance-enhancing drugs.
Jones has consistently denied the allegations, most recently on Wednesday when she called a press conference to demand that a public inquiry would clear her name. "My impression was that it was kind of a grandstand performance," said Pound yesterday.

Good for Jones. Don't back down. She's probably the only American track athlete with enough star power to stare down the accusers, and she's using her celebrity to try and force this issue in the public. Dick Pound goes after these atheltes in secret, but publicly accuses them of cheating. The mere accusation is a horrible stain that never really comes out. A cloud of suspicion hangs over everyone in sport, and it's only right for Jones to be able to defend herself in a public forum.

She's released lie detector results which show she doesn't use performance-enhancing drugs. I don't put much stock in lie dtectors, but she is flooding the public forum with scraps of evidence to clear her name. They tear you down on page one, and offer an apology on page 36 two months later. You can't ever get back your reputation. Marion Jones won't go down without a fight. Good for her.
posted by Poseur 6/18/2004 12:14:00 PM


Totti banned for three matches

Italy will cry, again, that authority is against the Azzurri, the national squad. It will be a lament without sympathy in the sport. Anything less than banishing Totti from the entire tournament is leniency on UEFA's part because the offense - spitting not once but several times at his Danish opponent, Christian Poulsen - was only one manifestation of Totti's despicable behavior during the match Tuesday night.

Just as bad, but not as detested among the professionals, was the seemingly malicious foul with which Totti ended the 90 minutes. His shoe was raised so high, his studs showing, that he could have kneecapped Rene Henriksen who, as it was, had to be led off the field after treatment....

I think the Hearlad-Tribune gets it right. Totti's lucky to at least have chance of coming back in the Euro Cup. And how he doesn't get a red card for his actions are mystifying. Just when I was considering be nice to the Azzurri, they go and do something stupid, making it that much easier to hate them.

Which I'm more than happy to do.

posted by Poseur 6/17/2004 01:17:00 PM


Bobby Knight is a great coach, but I can't believe there's any parent that would let their child go play for that man. I also can't believe he's been able to ammass a virtual army of enablers and apologists, who excuse his every misdeed. And some of them are sports columnists who usually know better. Knight is nothing but a petualant bully (he's also criminal, convicted in Puerto Rico in abstentia of assault).

So I'm not suprised Ohio State wants him to be their coach. But if I was a Buckeye, which I'm not, I wouldn't want that psychotic egomaniac anywhere near my program. Yes, he wins. He even graduates players. But at what cost? He also will physically and emotionally abuse them. He'll set up his own little personal fiefdom in which no dissent is tolerated. You sign Bobby Knight, you not only get a basketball coach, you get the whole freakish sideshow. When will Athletic directors stop giving this man the keys to the kingdom?
posted by Poseur 6/16/2004 11:15:00 AM

Lance and the drugs

The book, released in France on Tuesday, alleges that Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs in the years before his battle with cancer in 1996 and to achieve his five consecutive Tour de France victories.

In response, Armstrong's attorneys have filed libel suits in both British and French courts against the book's authors and publishers, as well as newspapers and magazines that have printed excerpts.

During his Maryland press conference, Armstrong was unequivocal in denying the allegations.

"I can absolutely confirm that we do not use doping products," said Armstrong. "I can also remind everybody here and everybody listening that this is not the first time this has happened. It's not the first time I've lived through this. I heard it in 1999. I heard it in 2001, and again in 2003 ... it happens all the time. And every time, we've chosen to just sit back and let it pass. But we've sort of reached a point where we really can't tolerate it any more, and we're sick and tired of these allegations, and we're going to do everything we can to fight them. They're absolutely untrue."

Also, let's give Lance credit for even saying nice things about the person making the accusations. Emma O'Reilly is the source of the doping allegations, a former employee of the US Postal team, but he's avoided the standard sports defense of attacking the messenger. sure, he's suing the book's author for libel, but he's not running some sort of smear campaign. Considering cycling's almost draconian testing measures (and rightfully so after the series of scandals), I find it hard to believe Lance is doping.

To put it simply, he would've been caught by now. He's the most high profile cyclist in the world. He's been under the microscope for years, and nobody has ever found any evidence to show he's doping. He would've flunked a test by now. There's just too much testing in the sport for anybody to avoid detection for long. But let this be a lesson to those who want testing in baseball or other sports, even repeated and random drug testing you cannot remove suspicion of blood doping.
posted by Poseur 6/16/2004 11:15:00 AM

Back to soccer.

I'd like to rant for a second about America's almost non-existent coverage of Euro 2004. The games are only available on pay-per-view, $149 for the whole tournament. The problem is, games broadcast during the day when most of us are at work. so who the hell is gonna pay $150 for the right to record the games and watch them when you already know the result? This is just a foolish decision. Had they sold the rights to ESPN, they would've been guaranteed a certain payout while also garnering a larger audience in the states. And the more people who watch soccer, the more fans you'll get in the long-run, allowing you to put this on pay per view in the future, and actually make money.

Here's the best soccer tournament in the world not called the World Cup, and we're effectively banned from watching it. Thanks a lot.

Anyway, Sweden scored five goals in a game against Bulgaria. Five. That's how many goals they scored against San Marino in qualifying. Sweden's not exactly known for their offense, and a five-goal output for them is almost a full tournament's worth (or one game against San Marino). The thing is, Bulgaria didn't play that poorly. they desrved better than a five-goal humiliation. Now, they are backed in a corner in which they have to win both games to have any realistic hopes of advancing. Goal differential will kill them. Sweden, on the other hand, is now sitting pretty. Two draws will almost certainly win the group, as Denmark and Italy played to a "thrilling" 0-0 draw. They would have to beat Bulgaria by more than five to win the group now, a nearly impossible task.

Which sets up an interesting group. Denmark and Italy will either have to beat Sweden or, more likely, get the better goal differential against Bulgaria. Denmark gets Bulgaria first, they need to win by two goals at least.

The Czechs almost choked. They rallied late to get two goals and get the win over Latvia, but 2-1 impresses nobody. And you have to believe the Dutch and the Germans will do better. So the Czechs need another win. Two draws may not get them through, especially if the Germans run up the score. Luckily, the Dutch looked awful against the Germans and also have had huge problems with the Czechs. They meet next and Holland would love to get a draw and then know exactly what they need to beat Latvia by to advance.

Today, we're back in Group A. With a win over Greece today, Spain would already be through to the knockout phases. Actually, the same is true for Greece, but that ain't likely. Also, if either Russia or Portugal loses today, they will become the first team eliminated from the Cup. It would be a huge embarrassment if that was the host country's fate. A draw would also virtually kill Portugal's hopes. They have to win today or else.

posted by Poseur 6/16/2004 11:07:00 AM

US Soccer update

Here's mail from Brian...

I know it's 2 years early, but how far can the U.S. go in World Cup 2006?

Yeah, it is too early, but I'll run my mouth for a minute...
First of all, the US beat Grenada 3-0 on Sunday. That's not a surprise, but it was an elimination game in WC qualifying. That's because CONCACAF has a stupid system for qualifying. With some 30 nations, it's a large field because there are just so many little Caribbean islands with teams that need to get eliminated by the big countries. CONCACAF seeds the good teams, then makes the rest play an elimination round to see who gets to go lose to the seeded teams in another elimination round--like Grenada winning it's opener to face the US. The winners from that round advance to pool play that will determine the WC berths. So in CONCACAF, most teams will finish their World Cup bids having played only one or two games. There's something fundamentally wrong with making teams do a one-and-done World Cup qualifier.

Oh, but you asked about the US. Let's assume the team continues playing at the same level it is now. That's pretty darn good, as we're #8 in the world now. So much depends upon the draw for the World Cup. The US might find itself with a high weight under FIFA's overly complicated seeding system, which means we could be placed into a favorable group.

Bruce Arena really has this program doing well, and he's got plenty of talent to work with. The 2006 team should have a few seasoned vets like Claudio Reyna, Eddie Pope, and Chris Armas, and Brian McBride. Plus, the youthful talent is really encouraging. Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley just keep getting better. And Arena has two years to develop other talent into the team. As far as the goalkeepers go, we've got an awesome crew. Let's put it this way, our back-up keepers are really good. I don't know if another team in the world has 4 keepers as good as our top 4.

Don't expect to see Freddie Adu. He'll be 16 at the time, and it just isn't smart to send a 16 year old to get elbowed in the jaw by 35 year old Eastern European defenders who have done time and who shave with Bowie knives. But Freddie will be the fresh legs supporting Donovan and Beasley in 2010--what an offensive attack that will be!

So, this team should easily qualify. If we finish second to Mexico, I could accept it, but really, we ought to win CONCACAF. In the tournament, we ought to be a favorite to advance out of the first round, despite the will of the internation media. I don't think we'll be a real threat to win the Cup, but we have the talent to go far into the tournament. Maybe we'd be an outside shot to win--a lot can happen in 2 years.

posted by uberschuck 6/16/2004 01:24:00 AM

Lakers get squashed

It was more enjoyable watching my finace yell at Shaquille O'Neal through the TV than it was watching this series, but I did see a lot of it. Here's my two cents. The Lakers aren't a team. Playground ball doesn't go very far when you can't shoot. Meanwhile Detroit played thorough team ball. They melted the clock; they forced steals and ran the fast break. They got balanced scoring and they made few mistakes with the ball. They beat the Lakers silly. This series wasn't even close.

Phil Jackson's record--no. Karl Malone's championship--nope. The Laker's dreams of putting themselves on par with the Bulls of the 90s--dead. Forget the hype. Detroit was miles ahead of LA.
posted by uberschuck 6/16/2004 01:14:00 AM

EURO2004 Update

Every team has played its opening game, so let's take stock...

Group A
Greece 2 Portugal 1
Spain 1 Russia 0

It's like God rigged this to prove that the BCS staff is too confident. We wrote off Greece and now they lead the group. When does Portugal's reputation go from a team that chokes to a team that isn't any good? We may have the answer on Wednesday when they play Russia. Can Spain get their revenge on Greece?

Group B
Croatia 0 Switzerland 0
France 2 England 1

Stephen has already detailed the latest English choke job. France is sitting pretty. Croatia and Switzerland have a fighting chance. England can take one of two approaches...a) we are cursed; b)we outplayed one of the tourney favorites, so we know we can win the next two.

Group C
Sweden 5 Bulgaria 0
Italy 0 Denmark 0

No one had a better first game than Sweden. We could have reasonably predicted that they'd score 5 goals in the whole tournament, but they just exploded all over Bulgaria. Henrich Larsson scored twice within a minute. Because of the draw in the Italy--Denmark game, the Swedes have a 2 point lead on the group and probably an insurmountable lead in goals scored. Where was the Italian offense?

Group D
Czech Rep. 2 Latvia 1
Germany 1 Netherlands 1

Latvia had the lead at the half. But when you're being out-shot 5:1 by a more talented team, it's only a matter of time. The Czechs survive a day of frustration and lead the group. The Dutch played like crap for 80 minutes, but then were awesome in the last 10 minutes. They generated 6 of their 8 shots on goal in the last 10 minutes, including the equalizer from Ruud van Nistlerooy. Germany's goal was an amazing strike from a free kick taken about 4 miles away from the net.

What a start!!!

posted by uberschuck 6/16/2004 12:52:00 AM


Italian attack?

Giovanni Trapattoni's Italy will break with defensive traditions and go on the attack in their first Euro 2004 match against Denmark on Monday.
Notoriously slow starters, Italy will feature all three of their big name forwards, Christian Vieri, Alessandro Del Piero and Francesco Totti, in the Group C game.
Supported by Argentine-born Mauro Camoranesi, the Italian forwards could give the Danes a torrid time if they are true to their attacking promise after a disappointing 2002 World Cup.

I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it. Italy actually attacking? If they do so, it complete changes the complexion of this group. Today's game against Denamrk will tell us if they are just blowing smoke or if this really is the dawning of an exciting era of Italian football.
posted by Poseur 6/14/2004 01:45:00 PM

Da Finals

I haven't said anything about the NBA Finals. There's a reason for that, which is that the only way you'd get me to watch the NBA right now is by attaching theose Clockwork Orange things to my eyeballs. Have you seen more brutal games ever? It's like they are trying to set NBA records for futility. You say Detroit plays good defense, which is true, but they also play lousy offense. They cannot shoot. And unless the name on the jersey is BRYANT, neither can the guys in Laker uniforms. A 10-foot jumper is an adventure. And that's even before someone puts a hand in the shooter's face.

They've played four games, and only two Lakers have scored double figures and any game. I want to talk about the Kobe-MJ comparisons, but why bother? These aren't the Bulls, this is a two-man team with no other options. You're telling me Rick Fox can't even put in 10 points? And if the rest of the team is going to take a holiday, why even try to get them invloved? Pass it to Shaq on every possession. not most of the time, not even a lot. I'm talking every single possession. And then Shaq should do one of two things: dunk or pass to Kobe. Anything else is a poor decision.

The Lakers, if they hope to climb out of a 3-1 hole, need to accept they are a two-man team. Just let them take over.
posted by Poseur 6/14/2004 01:44:00 PM

Engalnd chokes

It's no secret I am no great fan of David Beckham. He's a very good player, but he's simply not in the same class as his Real Madrid teammates Figo, Raul, or Zidane. I don't dislike Becks, nor do I resent his good looks and international fame. OK, I am envious of his bank account, but that doesn't make him special in the sports world. What irritates me so much about Beckham is the absurd amount of press he gets in relation to his talent. Nedved is the reigning European player of the year, and casual Stateside fans have never heard of him. But they know Becks.

But Beckham earned some of my grudging respect yesterday, when he did what a captain and superstar player should do: he took the blame for a catostrophic loss. Beckham missed a penalty kick in the second half, letting a chance to go up 2-0 slip through his fingers. England would eventually lose 2-1, so that PK looms large. But just saying England lost 2-1 kind of misses the point. and it allows me to show you what a real superstar can do.

Down 1-0 and in the very last minute of play, Zidane drew a penalty outside the box. He then scored on the ensuing free kick. That would have been a terrific story had it just stopped there. Zidane salvages a point for France! But he wasn't done. In injury time, with England desperately waiting for the final whistle, Zidane drew another penalty, this one inside the box. Unlike Beckham, Zidane hit the penalty kick, giving France an improbable 2-1 win. England allowed two goals with the clock showing 90:00, an unforgivable defensive lapse.

And Beckham took the blame. Zidane showed why he's the better player, but Beckham at least carried himself like a superstar.

posted by Poseur 6/14/2004 01:43:00 PM

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