Friday, June 30, 2006

sprechen sie fußball?

After nineteen consecutive days of at least two games per day, the World Cup field has now been whittled down to just eight teams. This week I review the eight games that produced those quarterfinalists.

GERMANY-2 SWEDEN-0 – If the two early goals and the curious sending off [pictured] didn’t kill this game, the shocking penalty miss by normally reliable Henrik Larsson in the second half definitely did. The last half hour was a snoozefest as the Swedes virtually threw in their yellow and blue towel. Still, the result goes a long way to prove the age old saying that you must never rule out the Germans. Although before the tournament they were expected to struggle, here they are in the last eight on their own soil, so anything is possible.

ARGENTINA-2 MEXICO-1 aet– For those unfamiliar with soccerspeak, the letters “aet” after a scoreline stand for “after extra time”. This was hands down the best game of the tournament so far. Argentina were heavily fancied to progress before the game but once it was over, they knew they had been in a contest. Mexico did their phenomenal support proud with a do or die performance that was worthy of further progression in the tournament. Ultimately it was a wonder goal from Maxi Rodriguez [pictured]. Top of the pile in what has been a string of breathtaking goals at these finals, which proved the difference. The biggest talking point was Argentina’s Gabriel Heinze only receiving a yellow card when he blatantly hacked down a Mexican player in the first half – most referees would have sent him off and the game would have been very different had he done so.

ENGLAND-1 ECUADOR-0 – He may make heavy weather of it, but England’s Swedish coach Sven Goran Eriksson has taken his charges to the World Cup quarterfinals for the second tournament in a row. Watching this match I think I can see what makes the team seem so lethargic. Despite the fact that they have arguably the most powerful midfield pairing in the competition with Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, I wonder if there is room in the engine room of the team for both their considerable gos, particularly Lampard. Gerrard has at least chipped in with a couple of goals, but there is something about the Chelsea stalwart’s attitude that just doesn’t sit right with me. I reckon he has had more shots than anyone else without scoring, but none of them that I can remember appear to have been taken with any real conviction. Perhaps the coach’s braver option would have been to leave one of them on the bench and let the other control things the way they are used to at club level. Still, despite this, they are in the last eight, so maybe I’m making something out of nothing. Beckham [pictured] deserves a mention for his well-taken goal, but isn't that kind of what he's expected to do? As for Ecuador, they appeared more interested in exchanging shirts with their more illustrious opposition at the final whistle than they were at winning the game.

PORTUGAL-1 HOLLAND-0 – As ugly a sporting contest as you are ever likely to see. What is most ironic is that although there were as many as 16 yellow cards and 4 reds brandished [pictured], two of the most flagrant transgressions were missed – the deliberate injuring of Cristiano Ronaldo which could have ended his tournament, and Luis Figo’s shameful headbutting incident. I was glad to see the Dutch bully boy tactic did not work and like most football fans, I cannot believe that when his team badly needed a goal, coach Marco van Basten decided to leave world class forward van Nistelrooy on the bench all because of a disagreement off the pitch. I appreciate why he didn’t start with him, because apparently Ruud has had problems with his Manchester United teammate Ronaldo recently, but by the time the hour mark came round he had been taken off and van Nistelrooy’s introduction really was a no-brainer. I have to assume van Basten will now be seen running the Dutch show again.

ITALY-1 AUSTRALIA-0 – The Socceroos run the Mexicans a close second as the unluckiest team to bow out at this stage of the tournament. They put in a gallant display for ninety minutes, but unfortunately it was an unnecessary lunge from defender Lucas Neill, who ironically had been motioning to his teammates minutes earlier to keep a cool head, which gave the favourites a chance to get through the game. Totti took the high pressure kick extremely well [pic]. I hope the Antipodean supporters back home appreciate what a great achievement their boys have made. It’s not like the rugby and cricket equivalent where they are expected to win every time. This was a REAL World Cup where they reached the last 16 from a field of just under 200, so they can be well proud. The Italians will be delighted to still be in the competition considering all the turmoil that’s happening back home over the match-fixing. It will be interesting to see how far they go and what will happen if any of the squad themselves are found guilty and are expected to receive a World Cup winners medal?

SWITZERLAND-0 UKRAINE-0 aet [Ukraine win 3-0 on penalties] – Gary Lineker called this one perfectly before kickoff on the BBC – “This is a contest between the two most unfancied teams in the last 16, to decide who becomes the most unfacied team in the last eight”. OK, OK, I will hold up my hand – last week I tipped the Swiss to do well in the second phase. I did so because I reckoned they had a strong defense and this could see them through. Pity they didn’t realise that it helps to try and score some goals as well. They played to their superior talents at the back and didn’t seem to mind the prospect of a penalty shoot-out. Well, this notion bit them in the ass as not only did their gameplan make for a boring 120 minutes of football, they also lost their bottle in the shootout, missing all four of their kicks to hand a quarterfinal berth to the Ukraine [pic], who must have long forgotten their 4-0 drubbing to the Spaniards way back when.

BRAZIL-3 GHANA-0 – Undoubtedly the most misleading scoreline of the tournament. It appears to have been a comfortable ride for the Samba boys, but it was nothing of the sort. The Ghanaians were lacking just two things – their star player Michael Essien who was suspended, and defensive maturity. Why they thought holding a high backline against the Brazilian forwards would work I will never know. Even “Who Ate All The Pies” Ronaldo [pic]was able to saunter through and score. Ze Roberto’s extremely well-taken third goal provided us with a glimpse of what we come to expect from the World champions.

SPAIN-1 FRANCE-3 – Cast your mind back to June 14th. Final score from Leipzig : Spain-4 Ukraine-0. If someone told you then that it would be the former Soviet republic that would make the quarterfinals and not their Latin opponents, would you have believed them? Unless you hailed from Kiev, hardly. The French wanted this game more, plain and simple. This was the performance their 30-something generation [eg Zidane seen in pic scoring France's third] needed to produce to justify their reputations, and whatever happens now, they can always point to this game. If Thierry Henry can find some of his va-va-voom as well against the Brazilians, anything can happen. However, it seems the French coach won’t let him run in at the goal from the touchline as he does so well for his club Arsenal.

all photos courtesy of

My predicitons for the quarterfinals…





Monday, June 26, 2006

bitesize bullets


UPDATE : Gran is still recovering from her illness, and it’s touch and go whether she can return to her independent living situation, so things are still up in the air on that front. Meanwhile, Sandra just got back in one piece from her “hen’s [aka ‘bachelorette’] weekend” in Barcelona.

COMMENTARY: If you’re a fan of Six Feet Under, I strongly recommend you at least rent the series finale on DVD and watch the last ever episode with the director’s commentary. It gives a tremendous insight to what was an exceptional series.

You – lost and lonely
You – soft and only
You – strange as angels
Dancing in the deepest oceans
Twisting in the water
You’re just like a dream
You’re just like a dream

Who sang that? Check comments for the answer.

RENTAL: Fancy a movie that’s both a bit different and educational? Try “Pavee Lackeen – The Traveller Girl” for size. Very simply done, it gives you a snapshot of the life of the travelling community here in Ireland. Hardly Oscar material, but does what it sets out to do very well.

FANNY… : …is my Irish Slang Word O’ The Week. While it means backside in the USA, it refers to a rather more intimate female area this side of the pond. It’s always amusing to hear an elderly American tourist in downtown Dublin loudly proclaim she has a pain in her fanny!

BUSHBASHING: Nothing like a 30% approval rating to get Dubya suggesting that something is to be eventually done about G-Bay, though not until the suspects have been dealt with by the law. I’m thinking – what exactly has stopped you dealing with them before now, Georgie boy?

STATWATCH : I forgot to mention last week that my assorted blogs recently surpassed the 25,000 hit mark between them since May 2005. That’s quite the milestone I reckon, but one that only other bloggers will appreciate – I won’t exactly go bragging to my friends!

TUNES: I treated myself this week to FatBoy Slim’s greatest hits CD, the one with the bonus DVD that has all his excellent videos. Well worth the money. My fav track is a toss-up between “I See You Baby” and his re-working of Cornershop’s “Brimful Of Asha”.

Patient : Doctor, I have a pain from halfway down my face to halfway up my leg.

Doc : Well, I know what it is but I can’t tell you.

Patient : Why?

Doc : Judging by your symptoms your treatment has to be on a knees to nose basis.

GOOGLING : Latest phrases to lead people here include …

“readable 1000 word story”

“chris de burgh blog mega spanish”

“biko funeral”

“ireland world cup we’ll really shake them up”

“3 legged footballer tune”

“brian o’driscoll drunk”

I hope they all found what they were looking for.

“Google phrases of the week” courtesy of

“Irish Slang Word O’ The Week” courtesy of “The book of feckin’ Irish Slang that’s great craic for cute hoors and bowsies”

Friday, June 23, 2006

sprechen sie fußball?

Plenty of goals, fiercely loyal and remarkably colourful support [a fact hopefully proven by the pictures courtesy of], never-ending talking points… the 2006 World Cup has somehow managed to eclipse my expectations and the first round isn’t even over yet!

GROUP A – This is a very difficult group to judge. Though the host nation Germany have done well to win all three of their first round games, you have to allow for the fact that they won 3-0 against an Ecuador team that was happy to have clinched qualification at all and didn’t want to pick up any unnecessary injuries. The eating that will prove this group’s pudding will be their performances in the second round. Poland and Costa Rica didn’t bring much to the tournament I’m afraid and deserve to be on their way home.

GROUP B – Well, they won their group, but I have to say, my tip to go all the way England need to do a lot better if my prediction is to come true. Michael Owen was very unlucky to be injured against Sweden, but I can’t for the life of me work out why the coach didn’t bring on Walcott instead of Crouch because surely the latter move meant changing the entire game plan just a few minutes into the contest. And as for the dodgy defending which led to Sweden’s second goal, you are told even at schoolboy level that you should never let the ball bounce in your own penalty area after a set-piece. Having seen the replay I found John Terry to be at fault for jumping for a header he was never going to win, but since he is the heir apparent to the captaincy, the English press seem unwilling to cite him. Elsewhere in the group, Sweden will be happy to have gone through, Paraguay will get consolation from picking up a win, and poor Trinidad Tobago were unfortunate to have gone three games without scoring a goal.

GROUP C – Everyone was bigging up the clash between Holland and Argentina in this group, but since both were guaranteed a spot in the next round, it turned out to be a dull 0-0 draw. I still reckon both will make at least the quarterfinals, however. Serbia have been the tournament’s biggest let-down, and all the experts are saying the Ivory Coast are the best team not to reach the knockout stages.

GROUP D – This has been an extremely second rate group if you ask me. Portgual are extremely flattered by their three wins out of three, and should get a rude awakening against the Dutch. Mexico were also a disappointment. Angola and Iran should be happy to have at least registered a point.

GROUP E – Now this is what frustrates me about soccer in the USA. My nation of birth put in a really gutsy tactical performance to come out with a 1-1 “tie” with Italy and any other country would be delighted with the result, but no doubt it was uzerped in the yankee doodle press by Miami winning the national basketball title. A team representing the country does well on a world stage less important than a mere city doing well on a national stage? Says it all really. The Italians themselves have shown little to convince me they can get over their match-fixing scandals back home, but I am delighted that Ghana will be representing the African contintent in the next round. The Czech Republic never got over the injury to their big influential striker Koller in their first game.

GROUP F – Ronaldo may have proved the theory that even at 60% fitness he is worth having on the park with two goals against Japan last night, but I still think his overweight appearance is a disgrace to sport in general. Best quote of the tournament so far has been the suggestion that his theme song should be “I Predict A Diet”. In fact, it’s that Nike insist that he play that’s an even bigger disgrace. Yeah, I know, that can’t ACTUALLY be proven, but anyone who knows anything about the game will tell you the sports manufacturers are pulling the strings on this event even more with each tournament that comes around. It’s a bit like Michael Jordan having to wrap the stars and stripes around himself while he stood on the podium with his Olympic gold medal because Nike didn’t want him seen in his Reebok tracksuit. Also in this group, Australia’s fair advancement beyond the first round can only be good for the game, since it raises awareness for soccer in a market dominated by rugby, cricket and Aussie Rules. Croatia never capitalized on their gutsy performance against brazil and Japan just didn’t cut it I’m afraid.

GROUP G – Even after two disappointing draws, the French can still get out of their group if they beat Togo today, something they must surely do, though only a win by two clear goals will guarantee this. The Switzerland/South Korea encounter could be the most exciting match of the round, since it’s a real all-or-nothing battle. I predict the European’s superior defence will win the day.

GROUP H – Ukraine did exactly what I predicted and gave the Saudis a pasting, and I can’t see them doing much less against Tunisia, to prove that a 4-0 loss in your opening match is does not mean the end of your tournament by any stretch. The Spaniards will no doubt win their third game, but they will be all too aware they still have much to prove in the knockout stages.

Monday, June 19, 2006

bitesize bullets


UPDATE : Thanks to all who expressed concern over my grandmother from last week. I plan to blog about the whole saga once I have broadband installed in my new abode, which should be in the next week or so.

RENTAL: I must confess I was pleasantly surprised by Disney’s animation flick Chicken Little which my kids finally persuaded me to rent last week. Although you are expected to identify with yet another batch of talking animals, this one still manages to entertain throughout, though it’s no “The Incredibles” or “Shrek”.

EEJIT… : …is this week’s Irish slang word and on a basic level is simply the word “idiot” said with an Irish accent. For me, it brings a whole new meaning to the term when used properly, eg “Ah, sure yer man George Bush is an awful eejit, isn’t he?”

SUPPORT: I have given analysis of the actual goings on at the World Cup, but thanks to the internet this year I have also been amazed by the the breathtaking atmosphere generated by the fans that makes this undoubtedly the world’s greatest sporting spectacle. Even the American support has been impressive.

LINK : This week’s Link shout-out goes to the right honourable Dolores McCrumble to whom I am forever grateful for plugging my blog in the midst of her emancipation. It all makes me hungry for a “lahge paw-tion” of Chocolate Salty Balls. Yes – that’s a private joke though trust me, it’s harmless.

TUNES: Sunday’s trip to visit my grandmother was accompanied by the soundtrack to “The Big Chill” which comprises mostly Motown classics like “Heard It Through The Grapevine” and “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” - tunes you just can’t help singing along to whatever your age.

PISS-TAKE : My fellow First Thursday reveller Ben E*******, who spent time in New York and follows the Yankees, is usually my go-to-guy for baseball discussion. After my A’s won 3 in a row at Yankee Stadium recently, I sent him a little ditty which you will find in with the comments.

HAUGHEY: Ireland’s answer to Richard Nixon, former Prime Minister [known here by the Irish word Taoiseach, pronounced “TEA-shock”] Charles J Haughey passed away last week, which lead to the predictable mixture in the media of hyperbolic tributes and damning eulogies.

“When I feel heavy metal
And I’m pins and needles
Well, I lie and I’m easy
All the time but I am never sure
Why I need you
Pleased to meet you”

Who sang that? Check comments for answer.

GOOGLING : Latest phrases to lead people here include …

“the nitecap dive”

“sex word of the day”

“how to shag yaself”

“german builders pants”

“free movies who will shag anyone for money”

I hope they all found what they were looking for.

“Google phrases of the week” courtesy of

Friday, June 16, 2006

sprechen sie fußball?

A while ago I did a series of weekly posts looking back on past World Cups in the build up to this year’s big event. I suppose now the thing is actually happening I should also pass a few comments! Since I’m stuck for time I will just round up what I make of events in Germany every Friday until the tournament is over.

GROUP A – Well, the age old World Cup cliché has rung true : “NEVER rule out the Germans.” Due to indifferent form since rookie coach Jurgen Klinsmann took over, many people thought the host nation would struggle, but they put this to bed after just a few minutes of their opening game with a thunderbolt from fullback Lahm. A deserved last-gasp winner against Poland now sees them through, but hey – how bout them Ecuadoreans? All they need is a draw from their showdown with Germany to win the group.

GROUP B – They say the sign of a great team is one that can find a way to win even when they play badly. If this is true, my tip to win England were the best team ever in their first two matches. Were it not for a lucky own goal and a miraculous goal-line clearance from John Terry, the English fans would be getting ready for a 90-minute nail-biting fest in their third game. Sweden should now go through with them, but you have to feel for Paraguay and Trinidad & Tobago. Both went over 160 consecutive minutes without conceding goals in their first two games yet both will probably be on the early plane home. That’s what makes it a “funny old game”!

GROUP C – Every World Cup has its “Group of Death”, ie a group with four nations capable of advancing, and with Argentina, Holland, Serbia and Ivory Coast, Group C is it this year. Though Argentina and Holland recorded wins in their openers, neither will feel safe just yet, and with two more games today, it’s still all to play for.

GROUP D – Mexico made light work of Iran, and although Portugal laboured to get past its former colony of Angola, I can’t see them failing to progress as well. I’m not altogethr sure either will go beyond the second round though.

GROUP E – I reckon it was more a case of an impressive Czech Republic side than a poor USA one that resulted in the 3-0 scoreline, so don’t dismiss the Americans just yet – they may be a good outside bet to sneak a result off the Italians in their second game. Ghana can’t be discounted either, though the Czechs look as good if not better than they did in Euro2004, and although losing Koller will hurt them, the talent throughout the rest of the squad, most notably Rosicky, could take them to at least the last four.

GROUP F – Hot favourites Brazil had a similar start to England, and I sincerely hope the Croatians realise they put in a valiant effort themselves in the opening game and could still well progress. Though I was happy to see the valiant Aussies record a victory, I fear it may be their last as I reckon it will be they and Japan to be travelling eastwards once this group is done.

GROUP G – Once again the French were disappointing, though you have to retain faith that they can progress, and I’d tend to plump for the Swiss to beat South Korea for the other slot based on their performance against Les Bleus. Togo had a well-taken goal to go 1-0 against the Koreans, but I think that may remain their only highlight from this campaign.

GROUP H – Many football fans would be forgiven for thinking that the literal translation of “Espana” is “perennial underachievers”. Despite their impressive drubbling of the Ukraine, we will see how they do if and when they progress past the first round, for only a final four berth will serve to shake their tag. I still the Shevchenko & co have a chance to make it through, since the two Arab nations in this group seem very shaky defensively.

all photos courtesy of

Monday, June 12, 2006

bitesize bullets


UPDATE : Last week was rough – my 96-year-old grandmother, who hasn’t been sick for years, caught a bad chest infection down in her new apartment and needed to spend a couple of days in hospital. She hopes to have her strength back for my wedding in August.

TUNES : Yet another trusty companion for the straight one hour drive back and forth to my grandmother’s apartment has been the soundtrack for the Blues Brothers. The kids got a kick out of it when they travelled with me yesterday, particularly “Rawhide”.

Lie around all day
Have a drink to chase
‘Yourself and tourists, yeah
That's what I hate’
He said ‘We're going wrong
We've all become the same
We dress the same ways
Only our accents change’

Who sang that? Check comments for the answer.

ARTICLE : If you are curious about the World Cup phenomenon and would like it explained in layman’s terms, you could do no better than reading this month’s National Geographic cover feature by among others Sean Wilsey. There is even a trademark NG foldout wallchart to enjoy.

LINK : This week’s link shout-out goes to Catalizadora for adding my Irish blog to her blogroll. Nice to see my stuff is being read by someone originally from as far afield as Argentina.

CONFESSION : I have to admit I find the seventh instalment of the Big Brother enigma to be quite entertaining. Best bit for me is when Pete is in the diary room. Even if he doesn’t win overall like I think he will, he has done bucketloads for awareness of Tourette’s syndrome.

STATWATCH : Not a word of a lie – on my “portfolio blog”, my statcounter was registering exactly 666 hits on June 6, 2006. If you knew how sceptical I was about paranormal coincidences, you would be sure I could never make that up.

RENTAL : I don’t care if it makes me sound homophobic – Brokeback Mountain was a snoozefest from start to finish. I cannot believe the acclaim it received and it makes me wonder about the future of Hollywood. Try the same story with a hetero-sexual couple and noone would have gone near it.

DEADLY… : …is this week’s Irish slang word and when used properly actually means something very good. “Jaysis check out the jugs on yer one they’re fookin DEADLY man!” I presume I don’t need to translate the word “jugs”…

GOOGLING : Latest phrases to lead people here include …

“whatever happened to patrick battiston”

“unbelievable herald schumacher pictures”

“italy 1989 world cup souvenir with national anthems”

“things you can shag”

I hope they all found what they were looking for.

“Statwatch” and “Google phrases of the week” courtesy of

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

bitesize bullets


SCARCE : Sorry the posting has been so rare – moving both myself and my grandmother to new abodes has taken over two months but at least there appears to be an end in sight. Still no broadband in new apartment - I’m now using a net café.

TUNES : The weather has been glorious here in Dublin lately, and I’ve had no better non-human companion on the one hour drive to my gran’s new place than Hootie and the Blowfish’s debut album Cracked Rear View. I challenge you not to choke up a bit at the last track “Goodbye”.

SHAME : Though it pains me to say it, the Irish legal system has been put to shame in recent weeks by the discovery of a loophole which could see convicted sex offenders go free. What is equally shameful is how our elected representatives are doing headless chicken impersonations and denying responsibility.

FEAST : After all my posts of preparation for the World Cup, it finally kicks off this Friday when hosts Germany face Costa Rica. I have an added bonus in that my kids have caught the soccer bug in the past few months and are excited about watching it with me.

You can see the summit
But you just can’t reach it
Last piece of the puzzle
But you just can’t make it fit
Doctor says you’re cured
But you still feel the pain
Aspirations in the clouds
But your hopes go down the drain

Who sang that? Comments have answer.

BUSHBASHING : I guess the one thing that annoys me about the whole Iraq debate is how there are so many Americans who are absolutely convinced without a shadow of doubt that whatever they do, it’s ok because they are “the good guys”. Oh if only reality were that simple, eh?

BOOKWORM : I made a resolution to read a book every month in 2006 and so far all I’ve managed is the Da Vinci Code. Well at least I’ve started another one, it’s by Karen Armstrong and is called “Islam – a Short History” and it’s heavy reading but interesting nonetheless so far.

PATIENCE : Though I’m glad a show like “Lost” has come to replace Six Feet Under and The West Wing, it really bugs me that I have to wait so long to see what happens now series 2 is over! The 5th line of intro is not a bad spoiler, BTW.

LINK : This week’s Link shout-out goes to Paddy from I Don't Really Know for adding me Irish blog to his list. Good to see another blogger unafraid to publish his own poetry as well.

GOOGLING : Latest phrases to lead people here include …

“pagano diet blog”

“goalie, racism, italy, throwing bananas”

“kim cattral measurements”

“even if it breaks your heart to be just friends”

I hope they all found what they were looking for.

Google phrases of the week courtesy of