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Archive for the ‘World Cup’ Category

Fisking an economist on football

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I am all for economists like Tim Hartford, Steve Levitt, Tyler Cowen and others popularizing a rather forbidding subject through books and blogs. But at certain times and instances, a line needs to drawn. For example Russell Roberts at Cafe Hayek links to a piece by Allen Sanderson, a lecturer in Economics at the University of Chicago regarding faults with soccerfootball, which is supposedly an economic analysis.

However, written with a prejudiced view, not only of football, but of Europeans and football-fans in general, the article makes unsubstantiated conjectures galore, with nary a reference and expresses a naivete of its author that bordes on silliness. In another words, all set for a good fisking (just like this article that came before).

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Written by BongoP'o'ndit

August 11, 2006 at 2:36 pm

Terrorist ? What’s that ?

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As mentioned in the previous post, the Zidane send-off has been the big talking point rather than the actual football played during yesterday’s World Cup final. Naturally, the question on everyone’s mind is what Materazzi did or say to provoke Zidane into such an action, since, in spite of Zidane’s record of similar indiscretions earlier (headbutting a player in a Champions League match and stomping on a Saudi player in a previous world Cup match), he is usually pretty calm and composed on the field.

Officially, Zidane has only hinted that Materazzi said something pretty abusive and promised to reveal it in a matter of days. But rumor mills have been on the overdrive, suggesting that Materazzi either said something about Zidane’s mother or called him a ‘dirty terrorist’ – a not so subtle jibe at Zidane’s ethnicity.

The Paris-based anti-racism advocacy group SOS-Racism issued a statement Monday quoting "several very well informed sources from the world of football" as saying Materazzi called Zidane a "dirty terrorist." It demanded that FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, investigate and take any appropriate action.

This accusation is pretty serious, especially in a period when FIFA is trying hard to keep racism out of football (anti-racism statements have been read out by team captains and banners displayed before each match of this World Cup). So it is no surprise to see Materazzi coming out with a statement denying the ‘terrorist’ comment. However, that statement itself sounds kind of funny to me:

"It is absolutely not true, I did not call him a terrorist. I’m ignorant. I don’t even know what the word means," the Italian news agency Ansa quoted Materazzi as saying after the Italian team returned to Rome.

Come again ? Unless something has been lost in translation – this is quite an amazing thing to say in this day and age. Where has Materazzi been living for the last few years ? Has he been so engrossed in playing football that he doesn’t know anything about terrorists and terrorism ? I am sure no body is going to believe that ! The statement also sounds like the raised hand and innocent look routine football players indulge in after committing a foul.

So the question remains – what did he say ? Note that Materrazi says he did not call Zidane ‘a terrorist’ – that’s like admitting he did say something. I guess we shall have to wait to hear from Zidane himself.

UPDATE: Don’t know how reliable this is, but according to The Daily Mail, the ‘t’ word was used – but it seems – in a much worse manner. (via)

First Marco Matterazzi called the French star the Italian equivalent of ‘n*****’, and then insulted both his mother and his Muslim background by saying he is the ‘son of a terrorist whore.

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Written by BongoP'o'ndit

July 10, 2006 at 12:39 pm

Posted in Soccer, Sports, World Cup

The World Cup ends….

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…with a final match that was an uncomfortable reminder of several negative aspects of the tournament itself – players diving, wrong decisions by the referee, red card etc. The match will forever live in infamy for the incident – with 10 minutes remaining in the second half of extra-time and the score tied, Zinedine Zidane head-butted the Italian player Materazzi. The main referee missed the incident, but was alerted by the fourth referee (opinions differ as to whether TV replay was used), leading to Zidane’s ouster in the last international game for this legendary French midfielder.

The football itself was entertaining in parts, especially the back and forth action in the first half. France dominated the second half. Zidane’s amazing header in extra-time should have sealed the game except for an equally amazing save by Buffon. You don’t want to see a World Cup finals decided by penalties – but a decision has to reached somehow. Italy buried the ghost of the 1994 Baggio penalty miss to win. Poor Trezeguet – he will have to live with this one. Six years ago, he scored the winning goal against Italy in sudden death extra-time play to secure the Euro 2000 championship for France. This time he was the only French player to miss the penalty. So it goes.

I would have gone into a deeper analysis of the World Cup – but between this post by Confused and this one by Patrix  (two bloggers with whom much of the World Cup excitement was shared), I believe most of the ground has been covered.

This morning I was afflicted by the sad thought of no more World Cup games to look forward to. In fact, there is very little sports action going on right now – no upcoming cricket tours for India, the ‘other’ football not due to start till September and I am not much of a baseball fan (till it reaches the knockout stage). The World Cup, while it lasted, provided an easy topic to blog about. Now I shall to find some real issues.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

July 9, 2006 at 11:48 pm

Posted in Soccer, Sports, World Cup

The FIFA ‘All-star’ squad

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According to this report, the FIFA technical study group has chosen the following 23 players for the 2006 World Cup ‘all-star’ squad.

Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Italy), Jens Lehmann (Germany), Ricardo (Portugal).

Defenders: Roberto Ayala (Argentina), John Terry (England), Lilian Thuram (France), Philipp Lahm (Germany), Fabio Cannavaro (Italy), Gianluca Zambrotta (Italy), Ricardo Carvalho (Portugal).

Midfielders: Ze Roberto (Brazil), Patrick Vieira (France), Zinedine Zidane (France), Michael Ballack (Germany), Andrea Pirlo (Italy), Gennaro Gattuso (Italy), Luis Figo (Portugal), Maniche (Portugal).

Strikers: Hernan Crespo (Argentina), Thierry Henry (France), Miroslav Klose (Germany), Francesco Totti (Italy), Luca Toni (Italy).

The list is sure to trigger some inevitable debates over players who deserve to be in there in place of others.  I cannot argue much against the choice of goalies and defenders. But I doubt if Viera, Henry or Crespo performed so much better to get the nod ahead of players like Riquelme, Maxi Rodrigues, Ribery or even Kaka.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

July 7, 2006 at 10:02 am

Posted in Soccer, Sports, World Cup

And then there were two….

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Well technically, there are still four – the losers from the semi-finals get to play another game on Saturday for the third position. But that game is as important as the position of the vice-president of the United States (well – maybe not now – but whatever).

Just in case anyone is wondering, I am talking about the FIFA World Cup 2006 – if you have been in a cave or living under a rock for the past month, now will be a good time to come out.

A month ago or even a couple of weeks ago, not many would have predicted this final: Argentina had the most balanced team, Brazil were the most talented, Germans were playing trumendously with home support. But it was the ageing French and the solid Italians who will get to fight it out this Sunday.

A France-Italy final can go either way – it could be a thrilling up and down contest or a dull defensive battle. Both teams have shown dual personalities through the tournament. Italy started off with a dashing attacking style against Ghana, then played out a boring, brawl-fest against USA and finally topped the group with a strong finish against the Czechs. Subsequently, they went back into a shell against Australia, escaping with a very questionable last-minute penalty. Since that much criticised game, however, they have displayed some dazzling football to beat Ukraine 3-0 with relative ease in the quarters and then Germany in a high-octane semi-final game. The heartening aspect of the game against Germany was that Lippi was not afraid of going all out for the win. Of course, their offense is comforted by the knowledge of having an almost impregnable defense (yet to concede a goal from the opponent) that can stop quick counter-attacks. Hopefully it will be this attacking Italian team that shows up for the final.

France meanwhile started badly – a continuation of their dismal form from the last World Cup. They barely scraped through the preliminary stage before finding some flashes of brilliance against Spain, and then put in a dominating second half performance against Brazil to secure the semi spot. Against Portugal they did not do much offensively. The penalty was justified even if Henry made it a tad dramatic. [Talking about drama, of course, brings to mind the Portugese team that seemed intent on 'selling' fouls  to the referee (the usual routine of dive - followed by an arm-raised and I-cant-believe-you-din't-call-that incredulous look)  instead of concentrating on the task of scoring a goals.]. Again hoping that in the finals it is the French team that won against Spain and Brazil that shows up to play – with some dazzling moves by Zidane.

Apart from Zidane, I think the biggest gain for France in this World Cup has been the emergence of Ribery. This guy has speed, stamina and more than decent skills. Looking forward to much more action from him in Euro 2008.

Final note: my hope for the finals: Fra 3 Ita 2 (or perhaps 2-1) with the final goal coming in extra-time like the Euro 2000 finals. But I have a feeling it will be Italy 2-0.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

July 6, 2006 at 7:33 am

Posted in Soccer, Sports, World Cup

Germany vs Italy: semi-live blogging

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Feeling too tensed watching the Germany v Italy semi-final. Trying my hand at some live-blogging (sort-off).

After about 32 minutes – the game seems evenly matched, although I have to admit that Italy has had slightly better chances.

33min40sec: Schneider misses the best chance so far in the game to score – hits over the bar!!

German third not playing up to mark ! The passing between Klose and Podolsky is absent. Ballack not doing much either. Borowski has been the best German player so far.

39′ : good acting by Totti draws the yellow against Borowski…btw the card was probably called for.

UPDATE (the day after): All-right, y’all know what happened in the game. My first attempt at live-blogging was a damp squib – a friend came over to watch the game with me in the second half and he was supporting Italy. So time was spent arguing with him. After that I was drowning my sorrows with beer (some very good German wheat beer) and bratwursts – and some nice fireworks to wrap up the evening.

The German team played beyond expectations, spurred on by an enthusiastic coach and I am looking forward to them doing well in Euro 2008 (Austria/Switzerland).

The Italians displayed an extremely skilfull brand of football yesterday and deserved the victory. It pains me to say this, but that first goal in the 118th minute was a beauty – an unhurried pinpoint pass inside the box and a perfect shot – with enough power and the right amount of curl to beat the outstretched hands of Lehmann and sling into the net. My problem with the Italians has mostly been with the dour defensive strategy they adopt – especially if they go up early. That and their propensity to dive rather theatrically on the field. The theatrics continued (although last night, some of the Germans were guilty of it too), but this team has been different strategy-wise. With the exception of the matches against the US and Australia, they have played a visually pleasing, attacking football. Good luck to them in the finals. But I will probably be supporting whoever wins today.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

July 4, 2006 at 3:35 pm

Posted in Blog, Soccer, Sports, World Cup

This is why I dislike England…..

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….and their football/cricket teams. Someone is always whining after a major loss and blaming the defeat on external factors rather than honestly accepting that they suck. After losing their quarterfinal match against Portugal on penalties (yet again!), Alan Shearer said yesterday:

"I wouldn’t be surprised if Wayne Rooney goes back to the Manchester United training ground and sticks one on Ronaldo,"

This actually echoes the sentiment of a section of the English press, which incredibly blames Christiano Ronaldo for Wayne Rooney receiving the red card in yesterdays game. I do not think Ronaldo has won many neutral fans by his constant theatrics on the field – particularly his wink at the Portugese bench after Rooney received marching orders was in extremely bad taste. But he did not force Rooney to shove his boots into Carvalho’s unmentionables (that must have hurt !) – and even if he might have instigated it, there was no coercion for Rooney to shove Ronaldo right in front of the referee (if you are going to do something like that, do it behind the referees back – like Louis Figo’s head butt on van Bommel).

To be fair, not everyone in England thinks this way, particularly, Gary Neville, who has famously said ‘no excuses’.

In the end, one does feel a bit for the English players. They are a talented lot but were lacking a good game plan (bad coaching?). Characteristically, England played their best game in the dire circumstance of being down to 10 men. Also largely unsurprising was their failure at the spot-kicks. However, everyone but Hergreaves missing a penalty shot ? That’s a bit too much. Don’t these guys practice for the PKs ?

On the other hand, Germany as usual, won a penalty shoot-out. Thoughts on that and the remaining quarter-final games, as well as hopes for the semi-final results, in another post.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

July 2, 2006 at 11:37 am

Posted in Rants, World Cup

Quick thoughts on World Cup

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So much to write about………and the usual lame excuse of so little time. I guess a major topic of discussion should be the knockout stage of the World Cup. Two excellent games on Saturday with a possible contender for the best goal of the tournament, followed by a few insipid games and one high-octane wrestling match where the referee took center stage. 

Germany streamrolling the SwedesKlose and Podolski forming a lethal combination up front, Ballack passing with (as the cliche goes) pinpoint accuracy, Lahm making some dazzling runs through the flank and my hero, Klinsmann celebrating like (yet another cliche) a child on Christmas morning . What’s not to love ?  Perhaps their only proverbial fly in the ointment is the sight of a somber-faced Oliver Kahn sitting on the German bench. He is not happy and is letting people know it.

Btw, is Klinsmann, and perhaps Van Basten, the fittest looking coaches around ? I guess there is some correlation to them being the youngest coaches as well but still, you would think football coaches would carry around a little less tire around the waist.

Mexico gave it their best – but looked visibly tired towards the end of the game – and there isn’t much defending you can do against Maxi Rodrigues’ shot.

England – are they going to be the 2002 Germany World Cup team of 2006 – playing badly but still reaching the later stages ? I fervently hope not. Does anyone else agree that England will actually score more goals (and not just from set-pieces) if someone more mobile and creative plays in the midfield other than David Beckham ? I know about all that bending, curving and dipping the ball from the spot – but I have a feeling that with Rooney, Lampard, Gerrard and perhaps Crouch, England has enough fire-power for scoring – what they need is another fast player in the midfield. Of course, I could just be speaking crap. 

I was a little upset (to use a mild term) at Ecuador for not trying hard enough to eliminate England.

Portugal-Holland – oh god – what a crazy game ! Can’t add much to the discussion other than this conspiracy theory I figured out about the referee being controlled by the Russian mafia, which for some reason has a strong interest in seeing England through to the semi-finals. 

Italy-Australia/Ukraine-Switzerland: I dozed off during both games. The Italians again showed that they spend as much time in acting classes as in training session. (Update: Abhishek at Silly Point has an excellent post on the Italian’s lack of sportmanship). The Swiss inability to score on penalties, prompted a blog post by economist Steve Levitt.On the same blog, Steve Dubner briefly comments on a possible inadvertent effect of  the poor refereeing in this World Cup on a certain profession.

Finally, can someone please explain the meaning of celebrating a goal by sucking your thumb ? A quick Google search reveals that it is the favorite celebration of Spanish player, Luis Garcia – he apparently does it to "to commemorate his first-born son" – which by itself does not explain much and what about other players ? I thought I saw the Italians do it too. (Btw, here are two related articles on goal celebrations: from the World Cup site on Yahoo! and the Wikipedia entry )

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Written by BongoP'o'ndit

June 27, 2006 at 7:59 am

Posted in Soccer, Sports, World Cup

Predictions and such

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Peter Crouch is probably the most (unintentionally) comical player I have seen on a football field for a long time. The manner in which he missed the open goal where he tried to dive and hit a volley rather than trapping and tappin the football in (he had the time, he was wide open and even the kepper had given up) was quite priceless. Well, he redeemed himself eventually – too bad we did not get to see the ‘robot dance‘.

Also as I mentioned yesterday, Wayne Rooney did not make an individual difference on the field. However, the team itself started playing with a renewed purpose after he came in.

Yesterday’s predictions were a bit off.

For today, predictions are: Ecuador wins over Costa Rica (2-1), England wins over T & T (1-0), and Paraguay wins over Sweden (1-0). The last is a crazy prediction for an upset.

I got the first two results correct – not the scorelines. And the Sweden game was just the reverse. Let’s see what happens in the coming days. I will have to be out of town with probably no net access for the next three days. So I will bunch all the predictions together.

June 16th:

Argentina-Serbia & M. : 2-0
Netherlands-Ivory Coast: 2-1
Mexico-Angola: 1-1

June 17th:

Italy-USA: 2-0
Portugal-Iran: 2-0
Czech-Ghana: 2-1

June 18th:

Brazil-Aus: 2-1
Japan-Croatia: 1-2
France-Korea: 2-0 (I hope :-) )

Let’s see how many I get right this time.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

June 16, 2006 at 7:31 am

Posted in Soccer, Sports, World Cup

The Cup so far…

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All 32 teams in the World Cup have now had a chance to play. Two teams have played twice with one team (Poland) all but eliminated. So a good time to jot down some thoughts. Thanks to a small TV in a nearby conference room, set up by kind souls, I have been able to watch at least parts of almost all the matches.

1. Let’s begin with the latest action. As an unabashed supporter of the German team, yesterdays game almost gave me a heart attack – especially in the last few minutes with that header and the subsequent shot both ricocheting off the inner-edge of the top post. Before that, there was intense frustration as Klose, Poborsky et al kept missing the easiest of chances. At times it felt like the German coach Klinsmann was itching to don a jersey of his own, come on the field and show these young guys a thing or two about striking. He  might have actually done a better job. But Ballack I thought was superb in the midfield with some great accurate passes. 

A draw would have been okay for Germany – but I so wanted them to win. I feel a little sorry for the Polish team but they have themselves to blame. Their offense was speedy; the German defense was having a tough time stopping their breakaway counter-attacks and couple of times, had to resort to yellow-card earning fouls. So why then, pray tell me, did they set into such a defensive mindset and adopt a time-wasting tactics as early as the 10th minute of the second half ? Jans Lehman probably just dozed off in the second half. He did touch the ball once late – around the 36th minutes or so – and the Spanish commentator got so excited to see him on-screen that he cried out – SENOORRRRRRR JAAAAAAANS LEEEEEEEHMAN !!!

2. Worst refereeing I have seen so far: the send-off of the Ukranian player, Vashuk in their match against Spain. As Torres was speeding into the Ukranian penalty area, there was some pulling of shirt – but Torres had shaken that off. He eventually lost control of the ball and fell down on his own (not a dive either) and there was daylights between him and the defender. Why the Swiss referee sought the red card in that situation, we won’t know.

Spain hardly needed the help of that penalty or the man-advantage. They were good. Imagine scoring three goals with your top striker (Raul) on the bench ! Torres, Villa and perhaps Raul at the front, Xabi Alonso in the midfield and Puyol manning the defense – that’s headache for any team.

I enjoy the skillful, attacking Spanish style of play – and I hope this team does not underachieve as the Spaniards are often guilty of.

3. Along with the Spaniards, the Czechs and the Italians are the teams that looked the most impressive in their opening games. Rosciky’s first goal is a easy nomination for the best goals of the tournament. Hopefully Koller will be fit for the later stages.

The Italians surprised me. I hate their usual dour defensive play and the score one goal and protect the lead strategies (I was so happy when that plan backfired during the ’00 Euro Cup Final). But this team is much more attacking. Even with the 1-0 lead, they did not withdraw into an defensive shell.

The Italians, btw, are hands down winners of the World Cup Oscars for best diving, acting injured (till card is given to the opposing player) and ‘ooooh that was so close hand on the head’ mannerisms. 

4. Argentina and Netherlands looked good, if not impressive, against some plucky opposition from Ivory Coast and Serbia & M. respectively. And as has been noted elsewhere – note to Robben:  please pass the ball.

5. Most disappointed by: the French side. This is another team I usually like. I hope they go far and provide a fitting farewell for Zidane. But they seemed so lazy on the field. Except Zidane that is – even at this age – the guy’s still got it. Don’t know if everyone noticed Zidane arguing heatedly with Wiltold and others during a stoppage in the second half.  That won’t do. Fortunately, their group is not very tough (South Korea and Togo are the other teams) and France can soon break their World Cup scoring drought.

6. Brazil did not have a good game by their exalted standards – but I expect the team to gel together and play better as the tournament progresses. No mistaking it – this team has champions written on them – unless they get freakishly eliminated in one of the knockout rounds. Haven’t followed the Spanish league for a while – so it was a shock to see Ronaldo – at first I thought it was Roberto Carlos who had somehow gotten taller. Seems like the Brazilian president, Lula noticed too and said something about it – only to regret it later. :-)

7. England did not play well either. They have a good team and as usual their media and fans are predicting that this will be The Year (its a four-yearly British tradition you see). But there seems to be too much dependence on Wayne Rooney’s fitness. England would do well to focus on playing each group game the best they can instead of being distracted by the attention to whether Rooney will play or not. Even if he does play, there will always be a niggling doubt at the back of his mind and I don’t think he will be able to give 100% that way. The team has fire-power to win against Trinidad and Tobago without Rooney and that’s what they should do, hoping for his return in the later stages.

8. Among the so-called ‘smaller/weaker’ teams, Ivory Coast was probably the most impressive. Angola and Ghana played well too and of course, Trinidad and Tobago pulled the upset. I hope the latter develops some kind of an offense and does not keep depending on its keeper to earn a tie every day. Did not see Costa Rica play. Also missed the most amazing turnaround game – the Aussie versus Japan match.

6. Most spine-less performance I saw was from Ukraine. Spain played well and got two quick goals – but I haven’t seen any other team so clueless about attacking than the Ukranians. Their strategy seemed to consist of lobbing the ball from mid-field and hope that somehow Shevchenko would have a go at it. Surprising from a team that had one of the best qualifying records.

7. I also wish that USA played better than they did, if anything for the sake of popularizing the game in this country so that we can get some decent TV/media coverage. What happened to those blazing Landon Donovan runs down the flank ?

8. Apart from the Trinidad and Tobago versus Sweden match, there weren’t any big upsets this World Cup, quite unlike the last one. I guess Poland losing to Ecuador was sort of an upset.

Predictions: Having had a feel for most of the teams, I think I will be trying to predict the daily results from now on. Let’s see if I can keep it up consistently.

For today, predictions are: Ecuador wins over Costa Rica (2-1), England wins over T & T (1-0), and Paraguay wins over Sweden (1-0). The last is a crazy prediction for an upset.

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Written by BongoP'o'ndit

June 15, 2006 at 7:14 am

Posted in Soccer, Sports, World Cup

First upset ?

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Can the islands renowned (at least to us Indians) more for cricketing giant Brian Lara than any soccer prowess pull-off what Cameroon did in 1990 or Sengal in 2002 – the first upset of this World Cup ? I am watching the Trinidad and Tobago v/s Sweden game and so far they have held off the Swedes – even while playing with 10 men for most of the second half (~33 minutes as of now). As the Swedes tire, they are even starting to make a few offensive forays.

UPDATE: They did it!! Not quite the same giant killing achieved by Cameroon and Senegal since the latter two defeated the then defending champions. Also, Sweden, while consistent, are no football powerhouses like Argentina or France. Still, good job by this tiny nation.

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Written by BongoP'o'ndit

June 10, 2006 at 9:40 am

Posted in Soccer, World Cup

Time delay in ABC World Cup Coverage

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Started watching the World Cup games (and don’t ask me which World Cup) from today (missed yesterday’s action due to a conference). After a while, was extremely fed up with ABC/ESPN’s coverage – the ‘play by play’ commentary is too inane, full of unnecessary jargons borrowed from American sports and too dumbed down, perhaps in an effort to target the ‘ignorant American’ audience. On top of that they had this sappy half-time feature that somehow tried to tie-in Germany’s Nazi and World War II past and their revival with the 1972 Olympics, the 1974 and this World Cup.

Anyway, finally switched to the Spanish channel, Univision – don’t understand much of what they are saying – but the inflections in their voice, especially the excitement whenever a shot is taken at the goal or someone is brought down by a heavy tackle etc, indcates that their heart is in the right place. Couple of points about the coverage. Firstly, crowd noise is more prominent in the Spanish channel – ABC mutes it down for some reason. Secondly, ABC has a 10-second delay in their coverage. What are they worried about – a waldrobe malfunction on the field ?

Btw, love the Adidas Jose + 10 ads. You can see them here and here.

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Written by BongoP'o'ndit

June 10, 2006 at 9:12 am

Posted in Soccer, TV, World Cup

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