As we enter week two of World Cup 2010, here's some of what we've learned so far.
Even without uber-hot Herr Ballack, they are terrifying. After turning Australia into sliced meat on the barbie with a 4-0 spanking, they're suddenly the favorites to take the whole strudel.
Nervous as a bunch of overpriced chickens with a fox in the henhouse, they're wondering if the Great Green Gaffe, as one of the grand psychological meltdowns in the history of the World Cup is now being known, will define them finally as an empire upon whom the sun has finally set, radical underachievers underdone by their own excruciating self-conscious anxiety. England must win, they must score lots of goals, the pressure's on, and that's when they're at their worst. Tough to say it's do or die this early, but it's kind of do or die. If Rooney doesn't score a goal soon, he will explode like a hand grenade on a landmine.
Lionel "The Flea" Messi, weighing in at 94 pounds is in fact pound-for-pound, the greatest player in the world. The maestro, a modern artist/dancer/madman puts on quite a show, and he's got a great supporting cast. One game in and Maradona has not yet stuck his famous left foot deep down his throat. If they win every game he won't. If they lose, look for him to lose it. And when he loses it, he grabs people hard and gets right in their face, Evita style. That being said, whether playing, there's a chance they may win every game. If not for the superhuman goalkeeping of Nigerian, Vincent Enyeama they easily could've been 5-0.
Siphiwe Tshabalala. Say that name three times really fast. It transports you to another land. It's what the World Cup is all about. For this country on this continent to bring the world here and opening World Cup 2010 with a magnificent goal of that quality, pure grace and power and beauty. It was a wonder goal, a wet dream for every African who's ever kicked the ball. And lots of them have. But despite their vuvuzelas cranked up at full volume, they came crashing to the ground under the cruel but cute boot of Uruguay. One more game left. Do they have the game to compete with and beat the talented but slightly confused French?
Park Ji-Sung, Manchester United's Energizer Bunny, proved once again why he's the hardest working soccer player in show business. He demonstrating why Sir Alex Ferguson, that relentless Scottish curmudgeon, has fallen madly in love with this man nicknamed "3 Lungs." And that first goal was like a walk in the park on a Sunday afternoon. Argentina will show us what South Korea is truly made of.
North Korea acted like they didn't even know who Brazil was. Maybe they didn't. They're sharp, hard, quick, vicious, skillful, disciplined, dangerous, ruthless and relentless. They never stop running. They were just undone by their lack of history. They didn't understand the magic that is Brazil. And yes, North Korea, you can score, but you must calm yourself as you shoot. Too many balls rocketing over the goal like nuclear warheads with tracking devices gone all haywire.
Gianluigi Buffon is one mad handsome dashing cat between the posts. If he's not the best goalkeeper in the world, he's certainly on the short list. Buffon is no buffoon. Sadly, he is a walking metaphor for Italy. He's been carrying the weight of a nation on his handsome shoulders for so long, his back has given out. He's worn to a knob, and he just can't do it anymore. If it weren't for yet another ridiculous display of goalkeeping ineptitude and buffoonery, Italy would've gone down in flames to Paraguay. Paraguay. Unless they can get some blood transfusions, the heartbeat is getting faint for Italy. And don't forget, last time they lost ignominiously at the World Cup, they were pelted with rotten fruit when they arrived back home in the bosom of their old "fans."
Cristiano Ronaldo is ridiculously, sickly talented, and so easy on the eyes it almost hurts to look at him. As I said, his downside is that he's a delicate genius, fragile as a hothouse flower. He did take a dive early in their game against the Ivory Coast. But then they kept hammering on him for real and he got a stupid yellow card. On the other hand, he almost broke the crossbar with one of his patented thunderbolt strikes. But apart from the beautiful and talented Ronaldo and a quick flash of Deco, it was not a pretty picture. Good news: Ricardo Carvalho is like James Bond 007 in the spine of the defense. Bad news: Ronaldo, like many delicate geniuses, is easily frustrated by the incompetence of mere mortals. And when frustrated, he tries to go all Superman and do everything himself. Down that road lies madness.
It's hard to tell with Brazil whether their lackadaisical nonchalance is nerviness, or that's just who they are. They hypnotize you into a false sense of security, like a snake lulling a fat mouse to sleep. Problem is, as far as I can tell, North Korean players don't actually sleep, so that didn't work too well on them. It was a joy to watch them dance, ping their little passes together, and then strike when the moment was absolutely right. Maichon's marvel goal was pure Brazilian wizardry. It was illogical. He should've crossed the ball. It's ridiculous to even try to bend a ball from that angle into the net, never mind doing it at full speed, against a world-class goalkeeper, in front of 1 billion people. The goalie should never have been guilty of committing the cardinal sin. You cannot get beat on the short side near post. But that's what magic is. The opposite of logic. And it was a classic Brazilian move. In fact a variation on one of the greatest goals in history, only 15 yards further away from goal. Carlos Alberto made precisely the same move as Maicon, when he thundered gracefully down the right flank, cracked the ball into the back of the net, and hammered the final nail in the coffin of Italy when they laid a 4-1 thrashing on them to win the World Cup circa México 1970. The second goal by Elano was, in contrast, simplicity itself. Tip tap, tip tap, perfectly weighted through-ball dissecting the incredibly disciplined never say die North Koreans, then the simplest side-footed stroke into the suddenly wide hole of the goal. It seemed so easy, I found myself wondering why people don't do it all the time. That being said, North Korea shredded Brazil's inner sanctum with shocking ease. As always with Brazil, the question is: is the defense going to step up? Or will the defense rest?
Too existential to succeed. They're all very talented, but it looks like they're wondering what there really is to live for. They're greatest all-time striker Just Fontaine, complains bitterly that this batch of wannabe Gaul marksmen are soft puffy pansies. Unless they quickly figure out a way to cheat, looks like a short World Cup for them.
Seem as bankrupt as their country.
David Henry Sterry is, with Bay Area literary legend Alan Black, co-author of The Glorious World Cup: A Fanatics Guide, for those who like their soccer with a side of kick ass.