The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
Kind of a compact car of a match, in the end. Fuel-efficient. Practical. Great for fitting into small spaces, but nothing to put a gleam in your eye when you see it in your slot at Avis. Even the rain, which briefly looked as if it might be cruising for a fling with my go-to fallacy (the pathetic, and isn’t it just), ultimately decided to prove to people like me that to be wet is not necessarily to be legendary. Still, it made some incisive runs, which is more than you can say about Russia.
After gushing about Guus Hiddink for the adroit way in which he contrived to eviscerate Holland, I found myself let down by his tactical choices in this match. I mean, where was his nous? It was like, one moment he had some nous, and the next moment, all that nous was gone. Presumably drained away by some greedy university seminar on Anaxagoras. Look, no one ever said the world’s nous reserves were infinite. This is why you should drive a Prius. You know, a Prius, like this match.
Anyway, what I mean is, the Guus got cautious. I guess that’s bound to happen when you’re playing a team in the semis who beat you 4-1 in the group stage. But Russia’s biggest weakness in this tournament has been the fact that they need something like 20 shots in order to score something like 1.7 goals a game. They’re on the wasteful side of dangerous, and keeping back to defend while packing in the midfield didn’t help them create the chances they needed to exopthalm the auld onion pouch, as Jonathan Safran Foer would say if he were also Tommy Smyth. They also just aren’t very good at the defensive game, as witnessed by the number of through balls the Spaniards played through a defensive scheme expressly designed to stop them from playing through balls.
Worst of all, the narrow midfield wound up crowding out Arshavin, who would drop back to do his “creative force who can go anywhere on the pitch” routine only to find that having three teammates within five yards of him kind of limited his space. With the result that he influenced the match only slightly more than I did, sitting on my couch at home, deliberating whether or not to eat chips.
Well, meh, as Bart and Lisa said (twice). It’s not as though one bad game means anything much about anything, and Arshavin, after all, was still brilliant in two of the three matches in which he’s known to have taken part. This just wasn’t a match for great deeds, no matter who was doing them. The lightning that knighted Germany-Turkey the night before stayed on the horizon for this one, watching from afar like the gods during one of those cranky-Zeus ceasefires in the Iliad. But those things never last. Aphrodite will be back guiding Arshavin’s kicking foot in no time.
In the meantime, Spain played like a tourist who knows the language. “Does that come with anchovies?” they’d say (Pujol to Iniesta). “No,” the waiter would reply (Iniesta to Sergio Ramos). “In that case, I’ll have the chicken,” they’d answer, nodding slowly (Sergio Ramos to Pujol). The exception was Fabregas, who flicked his way heroically through the match—the pass that led to Güiza’s goal!—and left me feeling distinctly unbothered about the loss of David Villa. It was still behavior suited to a casual situation, but what can I say, one Olympian always broke the truce, and some people order chicken in style.
by Brian Phillips · June 27, 2008