Friday, July 16, 2010

recent media intake

Last weekend I finished the Jordan Rules. Yes I know the book is almost 20 years old and documents a time when Michael Jordan wasn’t the Michael Jordan he came to be. (Maybe Sam Smith should do a King James Rules?) When I looked at my books, it was the first one that jumped out at me.

It is amazing that team won the NBA Championship with the infighting, attitudes and selfishness within the team. Yet once they won, everything was suppressed yet still right under the surface, until the end when management didn’t bring key players and personnel back and the 6 time World Champions were broken up. A main theme of the book is how each player impacts the team both on and off the playing surface. Grant was constantly hurt physically and verbally, yet he kept the team together due to his toughness. Pippen slowly found a role as he oscillated between supporting Jordan and envying him. Even Cartwright, whose unorthodox style caused havoc for teammates and opponents alike, brought some gravitas to the situation, so that when he spoke, people listened. Of course Jordan led by talent and force of will, dealing with the pressures of being a superstar, while battling the needs of the individual against the needs of the team. Pulling all of the strings was Phil Jackson, who at the time was a risky hire. Had he failed at this chance, a much different history of the NBA would have been written. Instead of being one of the greatest coaches of all time, with enough rings for three hands, he would have been tossed on the scrapheap of history.

I have now started the book Ripped, which tells of the tale of the music industry as it moved from CD’s to the Internet, ie MP3’, Napster, torrents, etc. The book is fascinating as the music conglomerates continued to merge and continued to ignore the customers’ desires. I’m about halfway through and can’t put it down. When the transformation is laid out, it is amazing how obtuse the industry was/is regarding contemporary music. People will find music no matter what you try to do. Get out in front of it, embrace it and allow artists to get the music out. When done, consumers will support in any number of ways—album sales; concert sales; hits on websites, which equal advertising dollars.

On the DVD front, I finished the final season of Six Feet Under. I was told by a reliable source that the series finale is one of the greatest in the history of television. It was emotionally wrenching, that is for sure. I was on the edge of tears the entire episode, mainly because the story thread of Willa brought back memories of Larry’s entrance into the world. The montage at the end was the pay off for the packaging of the final season: Everything Ends. A great song (Breathe Me by Sia) scored what the future of these characters held. I really enjoyed the show from start from finish but won’t be able to watch again for another 10 or 20 years, if at all. Almost every episode, which were so dense in writing, acting and material, left me in a dark place, where I couldn’t stay too long. The show does give a fresh perspective on life, death, and relationships. If you haven’t seen it, I would highly recommend it.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

World Cup 2010 Final and Tournament Review

Greatest final in the history of soccer? No way. Rarely do these matches live up to the hype. The first half was quite dull. Take away the yellow cards and De Jong’s ridiculous kick on Xabi Alonso, and there wasn’t much in it. The second half was pretty good, with Robben having 2 chances to win the Cup but not converting; Fabregas having a great 1 on 1 chance; and several Spainsh headers that went over. Robben has to be kicking himself. With the incredible strikes he hit to take Bayern to the Champions League Final, I felt sure that he would score either of those chances. On the second one, he showed what a diver he is the rest of the game, shrugging off Puyol (instead of falling over) before dribbling into Casillas instead of around him.

Extra time was sketchy. Not much in it, which was to be expected. I actually missed the only goal of the game because the DirecTV feed went out at the critical moment. I wasn’t really surprised. Given my history of big games on TV, (96 Spain/England, 98 Champions League Final, 05 Champions League Final, Euro 08 Holland/France to name a few), it was just another chapter. Missing Iniesta’s goal was disappointing on so many levels: Barcelona player, tribute to Jarque, claiming the biggest prize for Spain. The feed came back just before the trophy presentation. By then I didn’t care. I left.

Spain were the best team, yet only won every knockout game 1-0 due to a combination of factors.

Teams geared up for them defensively. Switzerland did not hide the bus they parked. Spain were the only team to score on Portugal, who were tough in the tackle and looking spring Cristiano going forward. . Paraguay didn’t sit back and actually made Spain look mortal. Only fitness deprived them of extra time.

Torres never got going. 24 months ago, he scored the game winner against Germany and was banging in the goals for Liverpool. Several injuries later, he looks like the new Michael Owen. He did create space for Villa but when Torres got the ball, he never looked like scoring.

Overpassed the ball. Iniesta for all his talent never pulled the trigger inside or outside the penalty area. Xabi Alonso at least took shots. Had he figured out the ball, he would have been top scorer. To be fair, the Spanish backs and midfielders did serve in crosses of varying quality, but with only one forward, they were worthless.

Overall the tournament started slowly but I thought ended quite well. The knockout games were tense and exciting, even if the quality was inconsistent. Forlan showed how far he has come since taking 27 or so games to score his first goal for Manchester United. Germany revealed a young, energetic team that will try to take the mantle from Spain, both on the continent and in the world. England were shambolic and will need a complete retooling. The US survived to the knockout stage but were exposed for what they are: a decent side that makes mental mistakes.

What the tournament proved is that the gap between the haves and the have nots has shrunk to the point where it is almost negligible. Look at the confederations. The African teams did not perform as a whole but Ghana did well and Ivory Coast was in tough group. The Asian contingent did quite well and will continue to be a factor in future tournament. CONCACAF is toast. They (the US and Mexico) are in the 12-24 range worldwide, so that if they get lucky they could make the quarters, but mostly get knocked out in the round of 16. Also look at individual teams, Slovakia, New Zealand for crying out loud, Chile. The more exposure players get in Europe, the more this tournament will follow the March Madness model of excitement and upsets.

So the countdown begins again for Brazil 2014. 1424 days to go.

Friday, July 9, 2010

World Cup 2010 Final Preview

I was doing well with my World Cup blog, writing something almost every day. And then the Fourth of July holiday hit and I was toast. I started writing a recap of the quarters and it just got away from me as we went to the beach and a party and traveled home. Then the semis came and while I watched them in the entirety live, I was swamped at work and just didn’t have time to jot down my thoughts. So here we are 48 hours before a World Cup Final that will crown a new winner.

Who will win?

From the start, I picked Spain. As the tournament progressed I wasn’t so sure, even picking against them twice in my Yahoo! Pool. The game against Switzerland brought back horrible memories of the last FC Barcelona’s Champions League campaign, and I was truly shaken in my belief in La Furia Roja. Each game of the knockout has been a struggle to convert passing and movement into a goal. They were all over Portugal in the beginning but it took a rebound scramble to advance. Paraguay pressure Spain into a lot of mistakes, and it wasn’t until Paraguay tired a little that Spain was able to find the breakthrough. Against Germany they had loads of possession but did very little with it—Villa missed a chance, crosses went to no one, turnovers occurred perhaps out of boredom. In the second half they had the edge but still had trouble breaking down the German back line. Their goal came from a set piece of all places and they were able to hold firm.

Holland have risen to the occasion. They are have fused their talent with mental strength and are willing themselves to victory. There is not doubt of the ability going forward. I worry a little about them in the back. Could see Gio and Van Der Wiel be put under some real pressure, and surely Van Bommel will not get away with hacking down Xavi and Iniesta every chance he gets. Sniejder will be a factor and Busquets will have to be at his best to keep him contained. I wonder about RVP. When will he impact this tournament?

Simply put, Spain should have 60-65% of the possession against Holland, but Holland will counter and take what they can get. Will there be goals in this game? Based on the run-up, it will be Spain 1-0 or a 1-1 draw that takes the game to extra time. The key will be when the first goal is scored. If it’s early, I can see a relatively easy 2 or 3 nil victory for Spain, with Holland not being able to see enough of the ball to come back. The later the game goes 0-0, the more likely it will be a repeat of Brazil and Italy in 94. 0-0 and PK’s. Both of these teams realize this is their chance and probably won’t risk enough to grab the goal.

Should be a fascinating (and possibly frustrating) game.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

World Cup 2010 Quarterfinal predictions

Friday and Saturday should provide great entertainment. There is one monumental game each day, which pairs traditional powers facing off for a spot in the semi-finals.

Brazil v Holland. This has been my comment since May when I made my original predictions: Brazil will punch Holland in the throat and the Dutch will collapse. Holland are in decent form but have yet to really put a team to the sword. Their defense has been ok, although Slovenia really rattled them at the end. They have given up two PK’s, which is a little troubling. I just don’t see RVP and co. giving a solid and physical Brazilian back line any problems, while I can see Fabiano, Robinho, etc, turning the Dutch defenders shorts brown. My guess is that Kaka will be a non-factor with Van Bommel and DeJong squeezing him out. Holland must score first to have any chance in this game. I don’t see that, and am taking Brazil to win 2-0.

The afternoon game is the game for the outsiders. Uruguay has the history but haven’t done anything in years, last making the round of 16 in 1990. As for Ghana, this is their chance to take an African team to the last four for the first time ever. I can see this game being similar to Paraguay/Japan, with teams being nervous and not wanting to make a mistake. The key for Uruguay is getting Forlan involved. If he is factor, he will win the game himself or create space for Suarez. Ghana has proven they can seize on any opportunity. They may only create 3 or 4 chances but they will make them count. I worry that they might be too loose with their passing and that may be their undoing. However I am taking them to win 1-0.

The first game of Saturday is Germany v Argentina, a rematch of this fixture from 2006, which Germany won on PK’s. Both teams advanced in part to poor refereeing decisions but also gave dominating performances. How will Argentina hold the fluid Germany attack? This will be their first challenge of any magnitude and we’ll see how they respond. Hopefully Samuel will be fit to play. I don’t see how Veron plays in this game and I worry about how Messi will get involved. For being the world’s best player, he has yet to have a game like he does for Barcelona. If that happens, he could be the X factor to separate these teams. As for Germany, assuming they play most of their starters, they should be good for a couple of goals, and I really think the England game will fuel their confidence. I expect this to be a highly entertaining fixture, with Germany prevailing 2-1.

Paraguay v Spain could be poor. If Spain get an early goal, they should cruise. If not, Paraguay will pressure them all over the field, bunker in and wait for a chance. I could see Spain with 65-70% possession and nothing to show for it. My guess is that Torres will start but maybe only get a half. Pedro or Llorente will come in or possibly Navas to give some width to the attack. I’m taking Spain in a narrow 1-0 victory. Just don’t see much spectacle in this.

If predictions hold, I will still be on course for the Brazil/Spain final that I predicted. We’ll see.