Saturday, June 26, 2010



by Wayne Robins

I wanted to watched the end of Uruguay vs. South Korea in one of the densely Korean sections of my neighborhood in Queens, N.Y. So I headed to the H-Mart (formerly Han Ah Reum) supermarket on Union Street in Flushing, where I go a few times a week and do most of my family's grocery shopping. It was startling to walk in and find the store almost completely empty: It is usually packed elbow to elbow on Saturday mornings, but I knew there had to be a crowd around a TV somewhere. I looked in the home electronics shop that can only be accessed within the supermarket, and sure enough there were plenty of TV sets on, but the teenage girls behind the cosmetics counters were watching some K-Pop contest show, a variation of "Busan Idol." I darted into the cafeteria-style Korean home cooking restaurant also within the H-Mart, and near the front there was a tiny TV surrounded by a dozen anxious soccer fans: I'd found my viewing zone.

After trailing 1-0 at the half, South Korea had evened the score before I arrived, and the crowd was anxious and hopeful, exhorting their underdog team with every unpredictable bounce and roll. (It should be noted that almost all were H-Mart employees, who are mostly either Korean or Latin American. The Latin Americans appeared non-commital. It was impossible to tell whether were rooting for their employers team, or whether common language had them pulling for heavily favored Uruguay. (There is a notable Uruguayan presence in frantically polyethnic Jackson Heights a few miles southwest). The game was being watched on Spanish language Univision with the sound down; the play by play came from a Korean-language radio station.

A few of the Korean employees went back to work after Uruguay scored a goal, making it 2-1. But South Korea continued playing with great skill and undeniable heart, and as time was running out, nearly tied the score with a dribbler that got away from the Uruguayan goalie and in what appeared to be heart-breakingly slow motion, nearly rolled into the net. Close, but no cigar. When the final whistle blew, everyone dispersed back to work, fatalistically accepting the result. I bought fluke fillets for dinner at the H-Mart fish counter, possibly still thinking of the fluke it would have been if South Korea advanced.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010


Italy Coach: "They Had Terror In Their Legs"

by Wayne Robins

The most candid, intuitive apology we've ever heard offered by a coach came this afternoon from Italy's soccer coach Marcello Lippi after his team, the defending World Cup champions, was eliminated by Slovakia, 3-2. More important, through three previous matches, including an infamous opening game 1-1 tie with supposed tournament patsies New Zealand, the Azzurri (or the blues, after the color of their uniforms) played without heart, passion or confidence.

English-language Italian soccer site Football Italia reported Lippi's postgame comments that were as astounding as the results of the play. Speaking of his experienced team (eight of the 11 starters were over age 30, according to brilliant ESPN announcer Ian Darke), Lippi said:

"They had terror in their legs, heads and hearts," Lippi said. Trailing Slovakia 2-0, Italy went on a furious run in the last 15 minutes of the match, scoring a goal and having a tying goal waved off because of an offside call that replays showed to be justified. Slovakia made it 3-1, and then Italy showed championship resilience by scoring yet another goal in extra time before time ran out.

"I don't know why they changed in the last 15 minutes. I clearly couldn't prepare them for such an important game, if they played for 75 minutes unable to make any mark - in my view exclusively due to a psychological problem - then it is only the fault of the Coach."

There's a dollar here for any U.S. sportswriter who asks a losing Super Bowl coach (just think of a Bill Belichick or a Bill Parcells) if his team lost the big game because they were insufficiently up to treating their players' emotional insecurities. Meanwhile, Italian football authorities are considering replacing Lippi with film director Dario Argento, the horror cult impresario.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010



by Wayne Robins

In one of the most selfless displays of sportsmanship ever seen in international competition on any level, the French soccer team awarded every player on its World Cup team and all the coaches and trainers red cards at the end of a valiant loss to host South Africa 2-1 Tuesday night. The unprecedented display of courage led the players to expect to be greeted as heroes on its return. However, after noticing that the team bus was being trailed by a motorized convoy of guillotines, the driver was said to have last been seen speeding for the border with Belgium.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010


World Cup: Germany, Italy Wobble, Saudi Ref Bobbles

By Wayne Robins

Finally, teams other than Germany, which dismantled Australia 4-0 last week, have begun scoring goals. Regrettably and possibly tragically for Germany , one of those other teams was Serbia. In a variation on the reenactment to the roll up of World War I, Serbia fired the shot heard around the football world, beating “archrival” Germany 1-0 June 18. My German friend, on whose behalf I actively root for the Nationalmannschaft, texted me that sad morning about calling his therapist to discuss this psychic and spiritual emergency. It is one of the wonders of the World Cup competition is that his current emotional equilibrium and perhaps future happiness depend in some part on Germany’s match Wednesday, June 23, against a Ghana squad that itself was shockingly tied by underdog Australia.

North Korea’s reason to be cheerful on the world stage is over, after being annihilated 7-0 by a pitiless and perhaps manic Portugal, an especially stunning result since the score was nil-nil after 28 minutes. In a similarly overwhelming defeat possible only by the relativist measure of international soccer, one of the weaker teams in the tournament, New Zealand, crushed defending world champions Italy by a final score of 1-1. The result was celebrated with exuberance by the Kiwis faithful and mourned with heartbroken severity by Italian faithful.
Chile and Switzerland was 0-0 after the first half of a match that may have been decided by the clueless Saudi Arabian referee. I will leave to the Ross Douthat’s of the planet the opportunity to frame this debacle in terms of repressive radical Islam vs. the West. But it must be said that the referee’s judgments did seem somewhat…fundamentalist? The man was handing out yellow cards (nine of them) like an overworked blackjack dealer, but his game changing and stomach turning decision was a red card against Switzerland’s Valon Behrami, your quintessential modern footballer: an Albanian raised in Switzerland who plays for West Ham United in the English Premier League and who sports both a multiyear, multimillion pound contract and an Italian model girlfriend.

His red card expulsion gave the advantage to a good Chile team, and forced Switzerland to rely more than usual on its dominating defense. A header by Chile’s Gonzales in the 74th minute was all the scoring needed.

The Saudi referee did call one penalty that deserves applause: He smacked Chile’s Valdivia with a yellow card in extra time for “play-acting”: making believe he was fouled hard, rolling around on the ground and holding his head, trying to get the ref to call a foul on an opposing player. This kind of mediocre acting has been on display in every game of the World Cup: It’s a tough judgment call and it’s not often called, but in this case, Valdivia definitely hammed it up too much, and we’re not talking West Ham. Perhaps the Saudi ref has seen Valdivia pull this before: the Chilean, according to an often accurate (but not always) Web site, plays for Al-Ain, a popular and successful club team from the United Arab Emirates.

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