Oh. What. A. Game! So much to enjoy here, just epic drama and scintillating tension that was contained enough to keep it from becoming a card-and-diving fest. How did we love the game? Let us count the ways....
1. Villain Bowl--this was a bit like the first "Batman" movie, honestly (1966 version--sorry kids), where you get the Penguin, Cat Woman, the Joker, and the Riddler all together to take over the UN. In their place, 4 of the most hated players in the world: His Abness Christiano Ronaldo; the Tuco Salamanca of football, Diego Costa; Ramos, now hated by both clubs and perhaps an entire continent; and Pepe, a junior member but always capable of extraordinarily reckless tackles and inveterate poisoner of matches. Just a lot of personality out there.
2. CR7 was sentenced to prison today by Spanish authorities for tax evasion issues. It's a suspended sentence, mind you, but he'll be dropping $20 million dollars in Spanish coffers. What better way to greet the great news than an old-school Man U cheeky kid version of his stepover to draw the PK and immediately put Spain on the back foot. His first time pass, outside-of-the-foot across the 18 on the break should have been converted by Guedes. Beautiful moment that shows his ego-ness can actually create. And then the equalizer. More on that later. But it was primo Ronaldo.
3. Costa, El Toro amongst the artistes. The Brazilian born striker was booed every time he touched the ball in 2014 (in Brasil) and is definitely an unusual fit with Spain's style, but he was money in the bank today. He starts two steps over the line from legality and four or five from fair play, and takes it from there. The first goal was pure individual brilliance, a rifle-of-a-shot into the left corner, and classic striker's knock-in for the second. And not even a card or wild provocation. I credit not hanging around with Mourinho so much for his improved evenness. He had a great game.
4. Spain's midfield: Isco came through with flying colors, looking every bit the young player who's stoked the hype machine. A subtle quickness, fluid, beautiful control. Well done. Iniesta had a few excellent moments, and I've worshipped at his altar for years. Such an unusual player, one whose deception can't really be understood fully except by someone trying to defend him. Obviously I haven't played him, but he has an uncanny ability to unbalance an opponent without great quickness, flashy moves, or eye-catching change of direction. Love the guy. But...is he a better player than Thiago Alcantara right now? Spain looked the nippier when the former Barca understudy came in. Finally, to challenge the orthodoxy of Busquets as holding midfield demigod seems terribly American, and that's almost surely a sign I'm off my rocker. Yes, the man can play the 4-5 yard pass over and over again. Yes he's calm. Yes, the fact that he doesn't seem to cover the ground of, say, N'golo Kante might be a good thing. But I don't see a Pirlo type wizardry from the back or the defensive steel of a Schweinsteiger, and until today, I've never seen him to anything with head. That was an exceptional header for Costa's 2nd. I'd love to hear more of an argument for his greatness other than "you're out of mind, chap!" Alcantara should be out on the pitch, probably at Iniesta's expense. My #1 rule of how things go bad at a World Cup is hanging on to a great player too long; we'll see if this is the case.
5. Great comeback by Spain, whom I sense this will help put the coaching mess behind them. They know who they are, whoever's on the bench isn't going to cause problems. This is a team that can probably coach themselves.
6. Well, that was a game for the ages, the best 1st round match I've ever seen from genuine heavyweights, with as much excitement as any 1st round game I can remember, with the exception of that crazy time the US beat Portugal 3-2. Yeah, that really happened once. This game just made me happy to be a part of it. With Morocco's fizzle--oh, what a fizzle that was--I think both teams should move on.
7.We had a great Ricardo Quaresma cameo today!!! 15 years ago he was tipped to be the next great player, a devilishly skilled player who played with a garish flair; he was the first player I ever saw do a ribona in a game, a ridiculous skill given that one can just kick the ball with the weak foot. Cultiish devotees who still consider him misunderstood by arrogant managers (Mourinho at Inter and Rikjaard at Barcelona) with no taste for the finest of wines. He was rightly criticized for overdribbling and underworking, a maddening version of Hatem Ben-Arfa minus the 1700 boxes of doughnuts. From there he became a legend at Turkey's Besiktas, where thousands came to welcome him back for a second tour with the club. An arrogant magician who did it his way, almost like a streetball legend who had no time for the silly demands of the NBA. And here he came, 34 years old, ancient for a wing attacker, and quickly turns his defender inside out on a throw in with the subtlest of feints, and then waltzes by two men in the penalty box only to be denied by a sliding tackle (go to 1:28 in video link). Somehow I envision him at 50, barely moving in a pickup game, maybe some homemade wine in mug, and making everyone the fool. Hadn't seen him in years, but he's still got the spark. Best moves of the night.
8. The drama on the free kick was as if Hollywood had it served up. I find CR7 to be at his most annoying when doing his classic "Look at how beautiful, make a statue of me, put me on every magazine" pose that he does before free kicks. So much of what he does seems about maximizing the adoration of his body. And yes, he does actually have a statue of himself, featuring abs and bulging crotch, in Portugal. He is also the best free kick taker in the world over the last 10 years, brilliant at keeping the ball down, able to hit with and without spin as the moment requires. Christian Eriksen, Gylfi Siggurdson, Neymar and Messi are awfully good--Gylfi is pure genius, really--but if I had one kick to save my life, CR7 gets it, and he can preen all he wants. When he stared ahead, "Gunfight at the OK Corral" came to mind, a moment that would settle it all.
But then I saw the wall--it's CLEARLY not set up 10 yards away--each swath of mowed grass is six, and they are 8.75 max. And I said, 'there's no way he can get it over and back down--it's just too close.' If you slow the video down (you can do that on You tube, you know, around), Pique grabs another 2 feet just before he kicks, and then launches himself into the supposed path--pure guts. There's no way it can go in. And then the brilliant strike. Unbelievable.
I went back and watched it several times because of one thing: is the wall set up wrong? Conventional practice is to put one man outside the wall, which I thought that perhaps Spain did not do. But they did. It's clear though that this isn't sufficient. The ball essentially goes over Nacho's shoulder, so I think we need to usher in a new rule--you need to waste a man and a half. Even then, look at the bend: you probably would have needed to waste two men, both jumping and ballsy enough to get their faces smashed. Anyway you look at it, a magisterial strike. Whatever else happens for Ronaldo, he'll always have Sochi.
Well, that was a game for the ages, the best 1st round match I've ever seen from genuine heavyweights, with as much excitement as any 1st round game I can remember, with the exception of that crazy time the US beat Portugal 3-2. Yeah, that really happened once. This game just made me happy to be a part of it. With Morocco's fizzle--oh, what a fizzle that was--I think both teams should move on.
Would love to know your thoughts. Thanks for reading!