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Monday, July 5, 2010
Updated: July 6, 1:40 PM ET
Time to talk semifinals

The Off The Ball 2010 World Cup of WiffleParity Semifinal Preview

4th of July. America.


Well, Davies, our dreams of an all 'Guay final are shattered. We lobbied hard but it is not to be. Decency won the day in these quarterfinals. The world will undoubtedly be worse off for not bearing witness to Diego Maradona and that saucy Paraguayan swimsuit model with the built-in life preservers running naked around the streets of their respective capitals. Thousands of horny teenagers will have to make do by Google imaging both (with safe search off) to get their kicks. But on the football front, forget the "World Cup of Cliché." Farewell, the "World Cup of South America." This World Cup has ceased being a World Cup at all, morphing into the Euros, with special guest Uruguay. You and I have nothing to do Monday other than play golf at The Bridge with James Frey (you) or hang out on street corners looking for trouble (me). So let's look back at what has happened thus far and make big, bold, futile predictions about what will occur over the next week: Both the run up to the final and The Big One (our favorite), aka the third place playoff.


Decency won the day in the quarters, Rog? Decency? If an intentional, game-winning handball off the line in the final seconds of extra time of a World Cup quarterfinal is your idea of "decency," then I'm not sure I even know who you are anymore. The special guest at EuroSpringyTurfhiffleSoccer 2010 should have been Ghana, the country that had my father and mother at "Hello." The country where I started life as a twinkle in their eye (puke), the country with the more heavily tatooed Boateng brother. Moreover, Rog, I have had an active weekend. I am in training to defend my men's singles title at the Easthampton Tennis Club, I have a mentally demanding golf match (most likely from the blues) at The Bridge against "The Hypnotist," James Frey, and there has been a lot of sport on television. Also, today I destroyed my iPhone while completing a minor act of heroism -- long story. But bold predictions? Bold predictions? They, even more than repeating rhetorical questions, are my Achilles heel. But Rog, I'm still in the process of wearing through my last deodorant application, so please, go ahead with your bold predictions.


Davies, I too feel sorry for the Ghanaians. But if Asamoah Gyan had toe-bunged the resulting penalty into the back of the net, we would not have a Luis Suarez "Devil or National Hero?" debate to bang on about. Instead, Gyan gave my player of the tournament, crossbar, an easy save. Now he's being linked to a transfer to Everton for his sins. Above and beyond, this is the "World Cup of Collective Endeavor." One in which united displays have trumped individual performance. Just ask Ribery, Ronaldo, Rooney or anyone who appeared in Nike's doomed attempt to "Write the Future" and prove there is, against substantial evidence to the contrary, an "I" in team. Back in 1986, Maradona's Argentina was able to ride his transcendent individual performance to victory. In 2010, it relied on passion and individual talent and came undone. Youth, discipline and commitment are the hallmarks of this World Cup. Which are all traits of the electrically, scintillatingly egoless Germans. Can anyone stop them, Davies? Tell me they can ...


You're still avoiding your predictions, Rog. But your noncommittal stance has sufficiently battered my deodorant's final resistance, rendering me finally fit to cipher the remaining four matches.

The Germans will not beat themselves

I'm reading "The Gathering Storm," a fantastic summer read -- Churchill's memoirs of the buildup to and early days of WWII. An amazing man, an amazing writer and a great friend of the pod. Churchill called the diabolical threat poised by the Germans "The German Menace" and he said this with abundant respect. Ruthlessly efficient, organized, coordinated, powerful, fast, fearless, decisive and merciless. And this is how they play football, too. They might be beaten next weekend, they might even be beaten this week, but one gets the feeling they won't beat themselves and someone's going to have to play awfully well just to contain them. Just like the Allies, the victory can only be attained by maintaining air and naval superiority, because in a ground war their cavalry and counterattack is just too strong. In football terms, this means that teams have to get in behind them and maintain their supply lines, not too much distance between defense and central midfield. Lots of balls into the box from the wings. They will kill the artful Spanish, imaginative Dutch or their old friends the Uruguayans on the counter. They must not get sucked in.


I like this, Davies. I too have found the Germans riveting to watch, but just know that you do run the risk of coming across like a high-brow version of The Sun recycling all that World War II imagery. One question though: This has become the "World Cup of Bandwagons." The German one (sponsored by Audi) appears bigger and more fuel-efficient than the others put together. But I think of you as a man with a keen eye for human weakness. Do Jogi Low's menschen have any tender spots?


Oh, Rog, for an older man, you still have a lot to learn about the world.

Karma is a B word

Despite everything I wrote above, you can't help feeling that German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer might just get a karmic payback for his blatant dishonesty against England. He knew very well the ball had gone over the line. Unfortunately, in soccer, no one even expects him to do the decent thing. But it was a goal and he knows it. And he didn't look super secure against Matthew Upson's header. I think he could still have a wobble. But don't get me wrong, I like Neuer. He looks the way I want German players to look -- a throwback German. Meanwhile, you've just got to think that Uruguay is due for an audit by the karmic equivalent of the IRS after Suarez's intentional handball off the line denied Ghana its rightful place in the semis. I see a wrongfully disallowed goal or highly questionable sending-off in the Uruguayans' future. And it will make me happy.


Here, Davies, you and I agree. There will be one more cataclysmic refereeing decision, serving to turn off American audiences by making the biggest football tournament in the world have the integrity of a WWE title fight. If I were a betting man, I would guess former policeman-turned-ref Howard Webb will be somehow involved, besmirching the name of the last Englishman standing at this World Cup (who isn't calling the game for ESPN).

But please don't get all down on my Uruguayans. They were last massive in 1950 and their return to prominence gives me hope that the Sears catalog, Bill Haley and the Comets, or the English football team may return from mothballs to reclaim their rightful place as cultural juggernauts. Besides, their postgame celebrations remind me of every Jewish wedding I have ever been to.


Rog, I've been to my share of Jewish weddings, including producer Dave's, but none like that. More importantly, you are still woefully light on prognostication, so here is another one for you.

Post will not be upstaged by crossbar

After the crossbar's stunning penalty save from Asamoah Gyan, the post did his best to regain his place in the spotlight with his three-assist goal for Spain against Paraguay. Look for these two to continue to go at each other in the semis, final and The Big One.


Agreed. Post versus crossbar is the game within the game within the game.

Davies: Roger, you are killing me with kindness here. Let me pull out an old trick to get you worked up.

The Jabulani and springy turf will not be upstaged by the woodwork

We have not seen the last of a WhiffleSoccerSlamBall-assisted goal in this tournament.


Michael, we have video evidence to vindicate my skepticism of the Jabulani. But your incessant haranguing over the state of the South African turf has worn me down. The World Cup has been undoubtedly all the poorer for the lack of sizzling free-kick action (each one is guaranteed to either bank 30 feet over the bar or to hit the wall if the player attempts to keep it low) but I have been relieved that the words Jabuani, vuvuzela and vuvuzela filter have dropped out of everyday conversation as really tasty footy has prevailed. Now if only you would take the turf out of the equation.


Fine, Rog. No more turf. But be forewarned:

I cannot possibly be trusted to forecast the semis

We were so bad at predicting the quarters we should abstain from predicting the semis to protect the innocent. So instead let's analyze the possible finals.

Holland versus Spain would be a battle of 16th-century proportions

This is the final I would love to see. A matchup so not of the modern era. It should be played by men in tights and ruffles and tunics with silly beards and wooden ships with eight sails and 50 cannons. It is a total contrast in styles and soccer-religious belief. It is the simple, but highly creative, revolution unleashed by the Reformation versus the indulgence, riches and baroque tendencies of Rome. Total football versus papercut football. Expansiveness versus intricacy.


This would be epic in both the football sense and the psychological dimension. Two fluid sides with histories of brittle self-confidence and mental implosion when the words "World," "Cup" and "Final" are mentioned contiguously. The changing room toilets will see a lot of action ahead of this clash. For Spain to reach the final, it will have to find a player other than David Villa who is willing to score. Although the reaction his goals elicit from the fair and balanced Spanish commentating team is charming. I particularly like how the chunky one keeps spanking himself in the face with the microphone. More of that please.


Holland versus Germany would be ugly

The English don't like the Germans. But the Dutch really don't like the Germans. They share a border and a very long history. A few years back I was in a meeting with some Dutch and German colleagues. My German colleague, a lovely and talented woman, made the very innocent point that the Dutch could not expect that the TV shows that work in Holland will necessarily work in Germany, because Holland is a small country with only one major city -- Amsterdam. Cold as ice, one of my Dutch colleagues, a lovely and talented man, stared right through her and dryly pointed out: "We used to have Rotterdam."


This is the one I am rooting for. A repeat of the 1974 final, where Johan Cruyff's Total Football side scored off a penalty on its very first attack. They stroked the ball around the field, playing keep-away, without building on their lead and neglecting to score a second goal. Twenty-four minutes later, the Germans equalized and proceeded to smother Cruyff. The rest of the game, according to the Guardian, was as if "somebody had ploughed over a tulip field" before Gerd Muller, the stocky German goal machine with the uncanny knack for scoring ugly but critical goals, bundled home the winner in typical style. As the ball trickled across the line, Dutch commentator Herman Kuiphof recognized the national trauma it was about to trigger, comparing the goal, and the game, to the Nazis' surprise 1940 invasion of Holland with a few now-legendary words of helpless horror: "They [the Germans] have tricked us again!"


If Uruguay makes the final it is not a fairytale

It is an injustice, and will be rectified by God.


Nonsense. See Gyan's move to Everton, above.


In my heart: Germany over Spain; Holland over Uruguay; Holland over Germany.

In my head: Germany over Spain; Holland over Uruguay; Germany over Holland.

But those aren't predictions, Rog, they are statements of subjective fact.

Rog: And that is why I love to work with you, Michael Davies. You are a prophet with a part-time gig as a producer of really good television quiz game shows.

Holland over Uruguay (in a game closer than you would think.) Germany over Spain (feeling penalties on this one. No chance, Spain.) Uruguay to win the coveted third spot. Germany to win it all. Which means New Zealand will remain the only undefeated team in the tournament and Shane Smeltz, great friend of the Pod, will have enormous satisfaction. And as you know, when he is happy, I am happy too.

Davies: As am I, Rog. As am I.