Dispatches from a Casual World Cup Observer: June 17 – June 18, 2014

Memo Ochoa stuntin’ on ’em

The 2014 FIFA World Cup is here, and I have a novice’s degree of knowledge as to what’s happening, as well as a small amount of sentimentality for the event. This is me traversing through work, drunken weekends, and Spotify with the World Cup either in the fore or background

Tuesday, June 17

I was staring at my screen in bewilderment at 9:05 AM. I was watching all of the American reaction videos to the second goal by John Brooks to win the game against Ghana for the United Stated. There were showers of beer, people acting in hysterics all colliding together with their wares of red, white and blue. I still couldn’t believe it. By 10:30 AM, I was still in a state of awe but it was concerning a ranking I saw on the music blog, Consequence of Sound. Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence received an A.

Lana Del Rey making a critically acclaimed was about as predictable as the teams from the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (or CONCACAF) having a strong showing in the 2014 World Cup. With the US beating Ghana, CONCACAF won a total of threw out of four of their first few matches against teams from CAF (Africa) and CONMEBOL (South America). The only time a member of CONCACAF failed was when Honduras was beaten to death by Benzema and Les Bleus (coming soon to The Mercury Lounge). With Mexico facing Brazil on Tuesday, it opened a great opportunity to show what the rejuvenated La Verde could do against one of CONMEBOL’s most elite teams.

It felt a little strange wanting the United States’ CONCACAF arch rival to do well considering the Yanks were coming off a major victory. If college football has taught me anything though, it’s that power lies in the perception of how strong the conference is. Ole Miss might not be the best team in the SEC but they sure as hell can contend with the best teams from the Big Ten. Maybe the rest of international soccer would take CONCACAF more seriously if they emerged victorious from the group stage.

As I awaited Miguel Herrera’s squad to take the pitch in Fortaleza, I scanned through my required websites before actually looking at some more spreadsheets. The last two weeks of the month are usually the slowest within the office and I separate my attention span between catching myself up on what happened while I was busy the week before and doing actual work. So, I skip over to the New York Times, Grantland, Pitchfork, Consequence of Sound and then Everyday Should Be Saturday before turning my attention to the game slated for noon. Belgium, a noted dark horse contender for the Jules Rimet trophy was taking on the Desert Foxes of Algeria.

The game started off slow with hardly any shots on goal. The Algerians started finding a rhythm around the twenty minute mark when Sofiane Feghouli was fouled by Jan Vertonghen to set up the first penalty shot of the game. The penalty kick was converted and the Algerians were up on the board 1-nil. The rest of the half was not enough to keep my attention as I went back to updating some reconciliation spreadsheets.

The second half started and Marouane Fellaini’s Afro became a thing on Twitter with a goal for the Thoroughbred Belgians. Then, Dries Mertens became the second substitute to score a goal in the 2014 World Cup. At one point, it looked like Fellaini’s hair would gain another moment of Internet glory as he booted a shot that went slightly over the net. The match ended with little fanfare as the Dark Horse Belgians hung on to beat the undermanned Algerian Desert Foxes.

After a lunch meeting over a sloppily made Mediterranean wrap from Jason’s Deli, I had my monitor tuned into the pregame between Brazil and Mexico. The game was soon turned over to Fernando Palomo and Alejandro Moreno who broadcasted the first Mexico game against Cameroon. These two are now intertwined with the narrative of La Verde in this World Cup and I hope it stays that way. The enthusiasm that Palomo exerts in his play-by-play for the game of soccer in general is something that I have found myself admiring and longing for with each match.

The arena in Fortaleza was filled to the brim with yellow jerseys. The host country was a deafening wall of sound once the game began. If Mexico was going to make it out alive, it wasn’t going to be easy.

The pace of the game was wild with players from both Brazil and Mexico making unconscionable passes that seemed to draw the ire of their managers. It was like each team didn’t know how to handle the confidence they had built from their first two games. Mexico was riding high after they redeemed themselves and Brazil was surfing on the crescendo of national support. Then, it seemed that Brazil finally found some rhythm. Yellow jerseys swarmed Mexico’s backfield and shot after shot was taken by Neymar and Oscar towards the back of the net. The only thing that Mexico could do on defend themselves from the shot attempts was make hard fouls against the Brazilians. Yet, the officials were not really in the mood to be handing out yellow cards on behalf of the host nation’s team. It was almost as if FIFA decided that they had given enough leeway to Brazil in the Croatia game after they awarded the dive.

Many of the shots that Brazil was making in the first half were either just over the goal or outside. When the second half began, it seemed that they were starting to get closer to the target but having a hard time shooting through the brick wall of Mexican goalie Guillermo “Memo” Ochoa. Ochoa seemed like he was practically everywhere and putting himself in positions that would have any mere mortal screaming for their mother. The play of Ochoa helped Mexico regain their confidence as they started playing more aggressively.

Near the end of the game, Miguel Herrera substituted Oribe Peralta for Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez who has been a lightning rod of controversy on the Mexican team for his lack of playing time from Herrera. The game from then on turned into an even handed game with Brazil attempting more shots on goal and more heroic Ochoa saves. As the clock started winding down, the score remained at 0-0. Fans from each nation applauded the efforts of Mexico as they were thrown into what was considered a guaranteed loss and emerged victorious. It was a draw that could probably be best attributed to the miraculous play of Elastic Man Ochoa.

After watching Nick Saban’s wet dream, I had to prep myself for another Group H game that I wasn’t necessarily fond of in Russia and Korea Republic. I decided to forego the masochism that Lana Del Rey otherwise would’ve endured in a 1-1 game and went to my girlfriend’s place instead.

Adios Spana (sp?)

Wednesday, June 18th

The camera pulled back from a painting of Robin Van Persie’s Flying Dutchman goal to reveal a larger mural of the pantheon of international soccer stars. There was a rendition of Lionel Messi within the middle of the flag of Argentina and then Neymar to the left of the airborne Van Persie. The international mural was on a wall, in what I am assuming was Porto Alegre, the site of the Netherlands v. Australia.

I was watching the first half of the game in a Mexican restaurant with my co-workers as waiters and waitresses passed wearing the national jerseys of Italy, Honduras, Ecuador, and Mexico. I looked back up at the screen as it showed fans of both the Oranje and the Socceroos pointing at the camera then screaming. Later, the Socceroos would not be screaming in enthusiasm but in pain. Arjen Robben would race past a Socceroo and then cross a brilliant kick past both the defender and the goalie into the net within the twentieth minute. It looked like it was going to be another long day for Australia. Game set match – Dutch pilot goes flying again. Before the Australian fans could start thinking about the trip back home, the Socceroos came racing to the Netherlands’ back field with a well time lob that landed at the foot of Tim Cahill. Cahill put a nice touch on the ball for the equalizer.

The game continues it’s frantic pace and ends with several casualties. Tim Cahill suffers his second yellow card and Bruno Martins Indi for the Dutch is carried off the field on a stretcher. The only equivalent I could offer for the game at that moment was Baylor-West Virginia. That comparison could not seem further from the truth in the second half.

Australia came barreling down the field and attacking Holland from all angles. Van Persie received his second yellow card from the tournament resulting in a suspension for the upcoming game with Chile. Moments later, Australia make the Dutch look foolish while becoming the benefactors of a handball penalty in the box. Mile Jedinak takes the kick and drives it home for the Socceroos. Four minutes later, the Flying Dutchman puts it through and equalizes the game at 2-2. Ten minutes later at the 68 minute mark Memphis Depay gives the Dutch an edge at 3-2. The rest of the game is Dutch trying to play keep away and barely holding on for their lives as the clock winds down to zero. The Netherlands receive another three points and edge themselves closer to the Round of 16 with Chile standing in the way.

Chile, after I wrote that last paragraph, became a world beater. They knocked off Spain in convincing fashion by maintaining possession, out racing an older Spanish team and giving Ian Darke and Steve McManaman some hissy fits by being a bit overdramatic. The Land of Huasos is now one of the most dangerous teams from South America with a crazed fan base that will literally break into a room full of cameras to watch them play.

There are throngs of people who were more than happy to dance on Spain’s grave after their loss including one Brazilian fan who thinks that Spain in Spanish is Spana and not España. It is very reminiscent of when a strong France team struck out from the tournament. People will respect you, but after awhile (and especially after three World Cups) they are not going to want to read any more listicles about why tiki taka is the greatest Spanish creation since gaspaucho.

The losses of Australia and Spain mean that the Netherlands as well as Chile are the first two guaranteed round of 16 competitors in the tournament. This calls for a celebration. I’m thinking a movie. There’s actually a cinebar that’s playing Big for $2. Samuel Eto’o may be getting old but the charm of Tom Hanks as a 13 year old boy trapped in a 30 year old’s body is not.

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