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.
I’m secured in my special match-viewing chamber (it’s more like a Y-wing cockpit than a TIE Interceptor, but, um, I also took some ideas from the Klingon “K’t’inga”-class starship) with my trustiest pen, a bottle of Dewar’s, and more quips than Myrna Loy after drinking a bottle of Dewar’s. I’ve got the matches set up to run simultaneously via COMPLETELY LEGITIMATE AND NOT ONLINE MEANS. Also, I like to fiddle with my Netflix queue while I watch. What do you want to see first, After the Thin Man or The 49th Parallel? Let’s not waste any time.
2:44: Pre-match bonus: I’m taking notes on a pad of paper that my wife brought back for me from Nashville a couple of days ago. It has a country & western guitar motif. She knows me all too well.
2:45: Super pre-match bonus: The Germany-England game is being brought to us by GolTV, with Phil Schoen and Ray Hudson announcing. Things just got a little more interesting.
2:45: Phil tells us that “England have made some adjustments to their starting lineup.” Which is one way of putting it.
2:45: Ray starts things off by saying that, “It’s always more than a mere football match whenever England and Germany meet. Well, not so much to Germany.”
2:49: Your starting lineups.
Germany: Adler, Friedrich, Mertesacker, Westermann, Compper, Schweinsteiger, Jones, Rolfes, Trochowski, Klose, Helme.
England: James, Johnson, Terry, Upson, Bridge, Wright-Phillips, Barry, Carrick, Downing, Agbonlahor, Defoe.
Phil correctly points out that England will be intending to run at Germany’s defenders, which only makes sense, given that one of them is Per Mertesacker, whom I intend to run at, if I ever encounter him.
2:54: Defoe, as if on cue, runs at the German defense, but sadly does so several seconds before the ball is passed.
2:56: Absolutely no mention of the fact that larges swathes of the German squad are now living in terror of Jogi Löw and his Kevin Kurányi-banning, Michael Ballack-crushing Machiavellian scare tactics.
3:00: Scotland and Argentina are just leaving the tunnel at Hampden Park. Some of the boys holding the Scotland players’ hands look like they’re about 15. Apparently FIFA’s command dictate of “starry-eyed children suffused by the wonder of Christmas” was difficult to satisfy in Glasgow.
3:00: The lineups in Scotland:
Argentina: Carrizo, Zanetti, Demichelis, Heinze, Papa, Rodriguez, Mascherano, Gago, Gutierrez, Lavezzi, Tevez.
Scotland: McGregor, Hutton, Caldwell, McManus, Broadfoot, Brown, Hartley, Ferguson, Commons, McFadden, Iwelumo.
3:01: Ray describes Germany as “indomitable” and says that Spain “just pipped them” at Euro 2008. Can you really get pipped if you’re indomitable?
3:01: I don’t know if this is any kind of clue to what his demeanor on the bench will be like, but Maradona is glowing with patriotic dignity during the Argentine national anthem. I don’t think I realized till now how happy I am to have him back in the game. He genuinely looks like Evita at this point.
3:01: England are having by far the better of the first 10 minutes of the match in Berlin. Suddenly James bobbles an easy shot from Trochowski, and with Schweinsteiger bearing down on the ball, Barry bears down on it better and barely bunts it out of bounds. That last sentence will be the closest this running diary comes to capturing the indefinable aural lilt that’s the hallmark of Finnegans Wake.
3:02: England make a mess of the first of what I expect will be 9578 corners tonight. However, it has to be said that they’re dominating Germany so far.
3:06: Due to a crash in my COMPLETELY LEGITIMATE AND NOT ONLINE match setup, I am without both matches for several minutes. Time to check my stock portfolio. On second thought, no, it’s not.
3:10: We’re back in Berlin. Podolski, surrounded by a gray, impalpable world, looks cold on the bench.
3:11: We’re back in Glasgow. Kirk Broadfoot is throwing the ball directly to the entire German team.
3:11: The German fans are whistling, largely because it’s raining and their team are playing like crap.
3:12: Ray on Philipp Lahm (who isn’t playing): “He brings such an urgent drive to the Mannschaft.” There’s a very real chance that this little project of mine could go downhill.
3:12: Maxi Rodriguez indulges in a superb display of ball-juggling that leads to a looping pass and a near-goal from Mascherano. Argentina are looking a little, um, better than Scotland so far.
3:13: GOAL – ARGENTINA. And we have our first goal of the night. A devastatingly gorgeous sequence of passes between Tevez, Jonás Gutiérrez, and Rodriguez leads to a simple home-slotting for Rodriguez. What a sequence from Argentina. Maradona, still grimly sheathed in dignity, looks mildly pleased on the bench. Argentina lead 1-0.
3:14: Phil says that Germany’s height is keeping the ball from reaching England’s speedier players. Ray, scoffing, says that he prefers greyhounds to giraffes. Given my admittedly shaky impression of the possession statistics so far, I think I’m with Ray.
3:16: GOAL – ENGLAND. Matty Upson pokes it into the bet during a phase of scrambling in the box. I take back what I said about England’s corners, at least as long as Downing is taking them and René Adler is catastrophically mis-timing his attempt to punch them away. Not great goalkeeping in this match so far. Still, with Geoff Hurst in attendance tonight, it’s worth pointing out that the ball definitely did cross the line.
3:17: Phil: “I wonder if the queen lifted her teacup a bit.”
Ray: “Dropped it, probably.”
I could not be having more fun at this point.
3:17: “This is not your grandfather’s England team,” Phil says. Oh, yeah? Name me one difference.
3:23: Alan Hutton kicks Gutiérrez at precisely the same moment Shaun Wright-Phillips is booked for a late tackle on Compper. I’m not sure how the parents of the Glaswegian vessels of innocence would feel about this, but personally I’m prepared to sacrifice the spirit of friendlies on the altar of the god of entertainment.
3:24: Argentina are horribly, brutally better than Scotland. Just as I write those words, a ball comes flying in from somewhere and provokes a desperate save from Allan McGregor.
3:25: Phil and Ray rightly praise England’s improved closing-down under Fabio Capello. They’re winning the ball in midfield every time; Upson and Terry have been spectators for the vast majority of this match.
3:26: Westermann narrowly misses a promising header for Germany.
3:27: Scotland improbably win a corner from a James McFadden shot. Goes absolutely nowhere, of course.
3:28: England are just running riot over Germany. The crowd in Berlin is deathly quiet. I’m hearing more from the Scotland fans, and I have that match on mute.
3:29: Alan Hutton plunges himself into Gabriel Heinze and then can’t believe he’s called for it. My God, Argentina are better than Scotland.
3:30: This may be the moment to point out that I’m wearing a Scotland kit for tonight’s festivities. Well, just the shirt. I don’t have the shorts or socks or anything. But then, I kind of do…in my brain.
3:30: It’s been a while since Tevez saw this side of a first half, hasn’t it?
3:32: Out of nowhere, the Scots nearly score on a header from Gary Caldwell. My heart is in my throat.
3:34: Time for a GolTV score update: Israel finish tied with Ivory Coast in the weirdest scoreline of the day.
3:36: Ray describes Joe Cole and Theo Walcott as the “the different types of ignition switches bled into this squad by Fabio Capello.” He’s right about the ways Capello has moved the emphasis onto his flair players and away from Lampard and Gerrard, though.
3:39: Downing with a blistering shot that demands a flying stretching save from Adler.
3:40: Halftime in Berlin. As cutting as the England midfield has looked tonight, maybe the answer to the Lampard-Gerrard debate is “neither”?
3:42: Broadfoot knocks the ball around unchallenged for a few seconds, doubling Scotland’s possession total for the match.
3:43: Heinze flattens McFadden, possibly mistaking him for Hutton, and smiles as if to say “…revenge!”
3:46: That’s better! Or, actually, worse, but from Argentina. A moment of pure, sweet confusion between Demichelis and Carrizo leads to a golden opportunity for McFadden, but he meekly passes it straight back to Carrizo. The announcers appear to have mistaken the pass for a shot.
3:53: Halftime in Glasgow. I guess I was wrong to expect him to do Jell-O shots off Javier Zanetti’s stomach, but Maradona’s proud seriousness has been the most striking thing about this match so far. He looks positively Capello-esque, except somehow even more dramatically composed, and—don’t take this the wrong way, but matriarchal.
3:56: We’re back in Berlin. Phil, Ray and I are having some trouble telling exactly who Germany brought on. We think both teams replaced their goalkeepers, but we’re not sure whether that nose we just saw belonged to Marco Marin. Or something.
3:58: Confirmed: Capello has replaced David James with Scott Carson. I’m guessing that was planned, but James did look shaky in the opening minutes of the match.
3:59: Rolfes tries an existentially speculative shot from miles outside the penalty box. Still, if Germany are feeling existential, it must mean they’re alive.
3:59: Phil asks Ray if he ever played against Psycho Pearce. “No,” Ray sighs sadly.
4:01: Phil finally alludes to the existence of Kevin Kurányi. Germany fans don’t make up a huge section of the GolTV audience, evidently.
4:02: Darren Bent is on for England, by the way. Apparently he replaced Defoe at halftime.
4:03: Hoffenheim’s Marvin Compper has a name that should be a description.
4:04: Ray describes Germany’s performance, brilliantly, as “dowdy”.
4:05: Promising for Germany: the ball slips through for Helmes, but Glen Johnson manages to fight his way ahead of him. Johnson’s playing well, probably because this is the first match in two years at which he hasn’t been tormented by the Pompey Chimes.
4:07: Podolski is coming on for Germany, sensibly enough.
4:08: Downing, who’s been everywhere tonight, fires the ball wide right. Somewhere in Florida, Bobby Bowden clutches his head in pain.
4:10: Germany actually builds an attack through gradual passing and movement. Then Scott Carson easily gathers the cross.
4:11: Another total system crash tragically cuts short Phil’s anecdote about how Patrick Helmes dedicates all his goals to his dead dog, Emmy. You are not invited to my pizza party, Comcast.
4:12: Bent takes a slippery cunning ball from Gareth Barry, beats the keeper, and somehow manages to miss the gaping net. Cue “worst ever missed sitters!” video compilations from four hundred thousand blogs before you go to bed tomorrow night.
4:16: GOAL – GERMANY. Slapstick miscommunication between Terry and Carson, the latter letting the ball roll between his feet as the former ineffectually tries to block out Helmes. If you kick the ball very hard, it will go out of reach, guys. Helmes was offside, but deserved the goal for that Larry and Curly display.
4:18: Maradona, looking on from the bench, looks like the grandmother of an ancient Sicilian noble family who rules the countryside through espionage, secrecy and fear. There’s something incredibly stirring about this. His eyes burn with anguish and anger. I’m not sure if I’m getting this across, but I’m really happy to have him back in football.
4:20: Scotland are really starting to look more focused. Except for now, when they’re just kind of bungling around and heading things all over the place.
4:21: Tim Wiese, the new German goalkeeper, struggles with a free kick from Wright-Phillips, but no England players are around to follow up, maybe because England have gone completely defensive for some reason.
4:22: Scotland with a couple of substitutions: Paul Hartley and Barry Ferguson off for Scott Robertson and…I think it’s Shaun Maloney. Okay, I know it is.
4:23: Well! The 19-year-old Marco Marin makes a brilliant run for Germany, but slips as he attempts the shot. Germany’s recollection that they’re playing in a soccer game today may have completely coincided with England’s decision to play 10 men behind the ball, but I’ll take it.
4:26: “Little Marco,” as Ray’s already calling him, forces a chancy save from a player I think of as “Slightly Greater Than Normal-Size Scott.”
4:29: Scotland are really looking brighter. I’m starting to get my hopes up for a hard-fought, closer-than-expected 2-1 defeat.
4:30: Shaun Wright-Phillips drills a shot at Wiese, who manages to touch it onto the post.
4:31: Phil just described Wiese as “not tremendously old at 26.” I’m enjoying myself a lot less for some reason.
4:33: Maxi Rodriguez beats McGregor with a likely looking shot at the near post, but it goes just wide.
4:34: Rolfes is nearly run off his feet by Wright-Phillips, who’s really playing well.
4:34: FANTASTIC GOAL FOR ENGLAND. John Terry redeems his earlier mistake with an absolutely bloody-minded header, knocking the ball past Wiese in mid-air, bent at the waist like a neglected marionette, rising up over Westermann’s back like a siege tower. You will not see a better header, as Ray would say (or did he just say that?) Westermann had him completely blocked off and he got to the ball anyway. Unbelievable.
4:37: In Glasgow, Tevez is on the ground twisting in pain for about the ninth time tonight, this time after being felled by Shaun Maloney. Maradona may want to think about taking him off if he hopes to stay on Alex Ferguson’s Christmas-card list.
4:40: I can’t tell if I think Jogi Löw is dapper, or if he looks too much like a Japanese videogame version of Chopin. It’s one or the other, I’m sure.
4:42: We’re into stoppage time in Berlin, and confusion is general throughout the pitch. It falls faintly, faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, on all the living and the dead. By which I mean, Peter Crouch is coming on, but the referee seems to be saying that the game is over. Is it?
4:43: Now it’s over. England deserve the win, despite a few moments of Night at the Improv defending and Germany’s better performance in the second half. Terry’s header was sensational. Germany improved as the match went on, but spent too much of the game drifting, drifting like the memory of Michael Furey, the boy who loved you, but died.
4:43: Kris Commons hauls down Emiliano Papa. This has been a surprisingly rough match, with a lot of hard fouls. I haven’t gotten a thorough sense of Maradona’s tactical or stylistic approach from what I’ve seen so far, but he doesn’t seem to be discouraging the team from being physical.
4:52: Scotland look better, still, but can’t really do anything with it. Suddenly Argentina go racing down on the counterattack. Demichelis’s dribbling is making Kirk Broadfoot look stupid.
4:57: And the final whistle sounds in Glasgow. A good showing in a losing struggle for Scotland, but it was ever thus. Maradona’s up and hugging his players, but for most of the match he acquitted himself with so much solemnity that I can’t stop picturing him the waxy darkness of some remote church, wrapped in black shawls, clicking his rosary, scheming to poison his niece.
by Brian Phillips · November 19, 2008