Wednesday, June 28, 2006

WC: Straight Shooting (II)

More thoughts on WC’06 and How to spot a Great WC when you are watching one ?

Could this be the biggest world cup in the last two decades? There is a very big chance that we are watching the best world cup in the last 20 years. It may not be looking like it, due to the lack of “great” games so far, (even mildly entertaining games are hard to come by!). But check out this formula for judging the “size” and the quality of a world cup.

We can rate the teams in three groups based on their quality of play, results in major competition (euro cups), star power and international fan base over the last 20 years:

Alpha teams: Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Italy, France. (3 points)
Beta teams: England, Holland, Spain. (2 points)
Gamma teams: Sweden, Denmark, Portugal. (Conditional 1 point).

Starting from the round of sixteen on, every time there is a contest between two teams from the above groups, the match is awarded points according to the above point system. Example (If Brazil meets Italy at any elimination stage, that game is worth 3+3= 6 points, If Brazil meets Sweden, the match is worth 4 points on the condition that it is a “worthy” Swedish team during that particular cup (judgment call). The game for the third place does not count.

Here are the results from 1986 until 2006





2002: ENG/BRA , BRA/GER (11 PTS)


Now if Italy beats Ukraine (as expected) that is another 6 points. The other quarter final has the potential of 3-5 more points. And that will tie or exceed the previous high of 1998. France’ 98 was a great world cup and this one may come close to being as so.
Now, I understand that the quality of games is not precisely considered in the above formula, but note the following:

1. World cups hardly ever feature more than 3-4 “great quality matches”. The drama and excitement could be there, the intensity is always there, but I am talking about great play, exchange of chances and attacks, and constant action. I examined all the games from 1990 until today and tried to recall the great games in each world cup and that number was 2-3 “good” games per cup. Only 1998 world cup featured 5 games that were all above average. In 2006 we already have one very good game (POR/NED), one good game (FRA/SPA) and two slightly above averages (AUS/JAP , ITA/AUS).

2. People watch the world cup to follow their favorite “big” teams and their all-star lineups featuring the best players in the world. Sweden/Romania could play a great quarterfinals-game (1994), and nobody would care. Senegal/Sweden in the round of 16 (2002) featured some football skills and exchange of shots on goals that I have not seen for a while, and I cannot find two people who remember that game. But mention any of the above match ups and probably every fan will remember exactly what happened, and where exactly did they watch it. The 1990 world cup for example scored exceptionally high according to this formula, despite being the lowest scoring world cup ever (2.2 goals/game). However I will take its minimal scoring over the 2002 cup that featured Turkey and South Korea in the Semis.

3. The match ups between the elite teams in the above groups ARE the games with the highest potential to be the best games. This WC is another proof to the theory that soccer games never live up to their hype and expectations (The disappointment factor). However, the odds for a good game increase if the game is featuring too alpha teams with their super-stars and their passionate fans.

For those blessed with a short attention span and already forgot what is this all about. Consider that this year’s final 8 teams feature all 5 of soccer legendary teams (Group A) above. That has not happened since 1982 when the second round was not a single elimination but group play. This is just a reminder that despite the high number of bookings (I agree with 95% of the bookings in spite of the high number), and the usual referee mess ups (that sometimes changes entire games), we could be watching (missing!) one of the best tournaments in a while.

Here are a few thoughts from the round of 16:

-If you still has any doubt that life is not fair, and that god is not interested in the outcome of sporting events, check out the following teams:

Mexico: They surprise the overconfident Argentina early, but could not hold the goal for more than a few minutes, but they do not back off, and controls the tempo of the game by slowing it down. They get robbed on the worst call of the round, the yellow card to Heinze (6) should have been an ejection based on the “last defender” rule, (the same one that was used to eject Italy’s Materazzi (23)). And after almost of 100 minutes of grinding they lose on a fictional impossible goal.

Ecuador: The worst game in the round featured two chances. EXACTLY one for each team. Ecuador gets theirs early, on a chance that has 85% of being a goal (C. Tenorio (21) is face to face alone with the keeper), only to have Ashley Cole sprint all the way from midfield to partially block it into the cross bar!!! England gets a chance that has no more than 50% of being a goal (even if Mr. Spice is taking it, he does not make 50% of them, no matter how much he pukes), The ball moves side to side, top to bottom to an impossible low corner, and the game is over.

Australia: They played very good soccer throughout the tournament. They competed hard against Italy and even took control during some stretches, after they survived the first 20 minutes (about four missed chances for Italy, proving that both Toni and especially Gilardino are not world class finishers yet). The referee was very close and on top of the play that resulted in the buzzer beater penalty. The contact was not hard enough to take Grosso (3) down but Neill (2) definitely reached with his elbow and leaned with his back with an intention to obstruct. Just a dramatic way to exit. As for Italy, I cannot see a reason to be a fan of their boring play or style. I cannot recall a single game in the past 20 years where I said “What a great soccer game the Italians had played today”.

Ghana: The saddest part about the game, years from now, someone will read Brazil 3 Ghana 0 and will think that Brazil were in control of that game. One chance and two offsides. The problem is that Ghana controlled the ball and time of possession but without real threatening chances. The second half was an embaressement to Brazil. The only concern is that I hope FIFA is not consciously favoring Brazil because they are “good” for the marketability of the cup and attracts more casual fans. I hope not.

-Marco Van Basten was one of the best players of all time, but he has no business coaching the national team. Aside from the Van Nisterlooy decision, he was completely outcoached. His substitutions had no impact of the game what so ever, especially van der Vaart who obviously was not ready, and van Basten insisted on playing him, and he was non-existent. Van Basten never adjusted to the way Miguel (13) was defending Robben (11); the Dutch best player surrendered to close and physical marking without adjusting. The line-up did not have a leader to take charge and control his young teammates emotions, nor did they have a field leader in the form of Figo (who as I mentioned before is the best player on the Potugese squad and he was again the main reason Portugal won. Besides his outstanding play, he was shoving, head-butting and slapping opponents, leading his teammates and even overreacting to a foul that caused the Dutch second red card). Cocu (8) was the only experienced player on the squad and he is not that kind of player. Kuyt (7) did not belong at the world cup level and Ooijer (13) (32 years old with 21 caps!!) and Mathijsen (4) (26 years old with 10 caps) were completely responsible for the game only goal. Just a terrible combination of local players, and easily the worst Dutch team since 1990. The solution is easy: Guss Hiddink.

-Swiss/Ukraine, way to live down to expectations. Thanks for nothing.

- Henrik Larsson (11) ends a great career with the national team by missing the penalty kick that could have changed the game against Germany. After that miss Sweden lost hope and the game was over. On the bright side he had a great year with Barcelona and impacted the champions league final. Maybe he should have kept the dreadlocks.

-In Podolski/Klose Germany could be looking at the best forward duo since the days of Voller/Klinsman. Klose is easily one of the top three players in this year’s cup.

-One more example that cheating pays off: The immediate reaction to Henry crashing on the field hiding his face, after he was challenged by Puyol in the 83’ is “cheap shot, card him”, which is exactly what the referee saw from his position 30 yrads away from the play. The contact was incidental and to the chest, and that dive by Henry has changed the game. As for the French, Vieira (4) had another good game, and it was great to see Zidane making Spain pay just like he promised. And by the way, to win against Brazil: FREE TREZEGUET.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Review: The Ultimate Blogger

A tribute to the Sports Guy: Bill Simmons

After he graduated from a good northeastern school with a degree in political science with a focus on the Arab-Israeli conflict, he interned/worked for the Boston Herald. He was covering high school sporting events and local minor leagues, when he realized that he could be fetching coffee for a fat old sports writer for ten years before he gets his own sports column in a leading newspaper. These writers and national reporters never retire, and even when they do, the available positions are very limited. He opted for Grad school in Journalism and worked as a bar tender until, in his own words, “Al Gore invented the internet”. He wrote a piece on a web page under the name “Boston’s Sports Guy” run by AOL, where he blabbered about major sports, movies and other aspects of pop culture.

His Wikipedia page tracks the details and evolution of his career. (Typical Wikipedia alert: Some of the information is inaccurate and some details are irrelevant). His career resembles a great success story for someone who “did not start making $25,000/ year until he is almost 30”, yet he refused to give up on what he enjoys doing and was confident that he is able to do. He started with a webpage (he still refers to his columns as blog entries sometimes) and ended up “making it big” in sports journalism. He has his own section on and a weekly column in ESPN The Magazine (never as good as his online stuff; he is always complaining about the word limit (that he is not accustomed to), and he has to cater for a wider (casual) readership). He has a carte blanche from ESPN to attend, cover and write as many words as he wishes on any sporting event on the planet, from Super Bowls (he attended three of the last four in person) to Spelling Bee Nationals (which he covered in one of his patent running diaries).

Simmons is a must read for any true fan of American sports and American pop culture in general. He is smart, funny and covers everything from a behind-the-scenes, between-the-lines angle, which is so appealing to people who pay attention to details. He makes any event from WWE Wrestlemania to the stupidest reality show (i.e. Flavor of Love) more enjoyable to watch, just because he will be writing about it. (This phenomenon probably needs a post on its own, but remember that there is always a way to enjoy stupid reality TV and wrestling without being a stupid idiot; for example just think of the “unintentional comedy factor” (more on that later)).

His early work was better-written and more genuine, and he tried a number of things to increase popularity (hiring an intern who posted funny links, a daily update section (more cowbell), a cartoon based on his columns...), but unfortunately it may be true that, as he admitted to a rival sports magazine and website, that he only has 18-20 good months left in him. (Sports Illustrated felt compelled to interview him for a story about internet sports columnists, an interview that really demonstrates how does it feel to have your office in your garage, watch sports and movies for a living and become a public figure based on an on-line article. He gives his takes on blogs, wikipedia, and more details about his unique experience).

I really enjoy his work. I had bad days that became instantly better when I found out that he had just posted another 6,000-word article about anything. I tried to contribute to his world- famous (Mailbag), but my questions were never good enough to make it. I entered his intern contest, and did not make into the first round. I consider his style a blue print for amusing sports commentary and I try to emulate and adapt his approach while incorporating my own thoughts and analysis about sports.

Here is a sample of his quotes and theories, that are not too technical on sports:

-List of 'Guys Who Wield Just A Bit Too Much Power' -- like the bouncer at any snooty bar, the deli counter guy who only gives samples to people he deems worthy, and ice skating judges (especially the French ones). Softball umpires ... the guy at Best Buy who checks receipts before you can leave the store ... sixth-grade gym teachers ... bank tellers ... bartenders in crowded pickup joints ... condo association presidents ... sports radio hosts who hang up on callers when they don't agree ... everyone who works at a video store ... stewardesses on long airplane flights ... movie theater ushers ... the maitre'd at any restaurant in Vegas or Manhattan ... and the hotel worker in charge of the volleyball games at any resort.)”.

In Jordan that will definitely be “The “Conn-trol” in any Coaster bus” and “Any employee in any governmental department”.

-"The most annoying people in a sports bar or lounge, in order: The Over-Clapper; the Inconsiderate Chain-Smoker; the "Guy Who Sits Down Right In Front of You And Blocks Your View" Guy; the Guy Who Keeps Taking Cell Phone Calls; the Over-Excited Guy; the "Guy Who Gives Running Commentary and Thinks He's Phil Simms (in Jordan il m3aidi)" Guy; the Drunken Idiot; the Guy Who Gets A Little Too Angry; The Guy Wearing Too Much Team Paraphernalia; and the "Guy Who Won't Sit Down and Watch the Game But Keeps Popping In Every Five Minutes To Ask About the Score" Guy.)

In Jordan we can add the guy who cries in public after Italy loses although he is NOT Italian, and the guy who hates sports but is just there to hang out with his friends.

-On Unintentional Comedy:“One of the running themes in this space has been "Unintentional Comedy," those moments when something or someone cracks you up ... even though that wasn't necessarily the original intention.” A sample:
“every episode of "Friends" where Chandler is abnormally skinny or fat ..., any trophy presentation with the Williams Sisters where Venus won, and it looked like Serena wanted to hit her over the head with the second-place trophy, WWE-style ... any episode of "Cribs" when a rapper has a "Scarface" movie poster ..., the video where Bill Clinton says, "I did not ... have ... sexual relations ... with that woman", Sofia Coppola's performance in "Godfather 3", Buffalo Bill from "Silence of the Lambs" ... Mike Tyson's post-fight interviews from the mid-'80s”

In Jordan, that will be "Any Jordanian drama series" (a liveproof is the wide spread and overuse of “Shoo bitgool…” in pop culture), and a perfect 100 on any UCR scale is “Any Arab head of state giving a speech”.

-From his Soccer running diary in 2002:
-"Reason No. 125 why I never could have been a soccer player: Those four-man walls where everyone holds their hands over their packages and then the other team kicks the free kick right into them. That's about as fun as a car crash. It's funny, soccer players always have a reputation for being wusses, but this game is much more dangerous than baseball or basketball".
-"Quick plug for the World Cup: I'm not a soccer guy by any means, but I enjoy any sporting event when the following things apply -- 1) Players are playing at a world-class level, 2) the level of intensity is through the roof, and 3) the crowds are fantastic. I could watch a kickball match if those three things applied; hell, I could watch two guys playing dominoes. So for anyone to say that they can't watch the World Cup because they don't like soccer ... I just don't get it. I can't think of a more dramatic sporting event. For instance, Monday's South Korea-U.S match featured the best crowd I've ever heard for any sporting event. I mean, ever. I'm not kidding. They spent two solid hours screaming their heads off, organizing cool chants, rocking in rhythm, maintaining an unreal level of intensity….."

(and he has not even seen Al wi7dat and its fans yet…)

-"Here are 10 more "Guy Rules" (if you stick by these, you're all set):"

  1. Don't operate the remote control at someone else's house, unless they give it to you.
  2. Don't ask to borrow a porn movie under any circumstances.
  3. Don't even think about hooking up with a friend's ex-girlfriend or sister.
  4. When you're sharing a bed with another guy, sleep as far away from him as possible.
  5. Don't use somebody's towel when you're using the same shower, unless there's absolutely no recourse.
  6. Don't drink the last premium beer in someone's fridge, unless they give you the OK first.
  7. Don't ask to borrow a DVD, unless it's someone you see at least two or three times a month.
  8. Don't call to make fun of them after their sports team suffers a tough loss.
  9. Don't let your friends keep buying rounds without stepping up to the plate yourself.
  10. Don't order a seven-course breakfast when everyone else is eating bagels, then say "Let's just split the check evenly" when the bill comes.

In Jordan, a few more can be added like: ; Do not ever bump the last cigarette from anyone even if he offers it (extra: Do not bump a Marlboro cigarette from anyone if you are not a true smoker and you are just going to puff it without inhaling); While playing Tarneeb or Trix sharakeh (or any partners card game) do not try to outsmart yourself and try anything funny, (actually there is a whole set of rules regarding cards, maybe later). Do not ask anyone to take a test for you even if its English 101 and he had aced it before, Do not ever go out without making sure every guy, who is kind of your friend, is completely aware of your plans and is invited to join (especially if there are girls involved in the plans)…actually, this can be a whole new post.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Profile: The Terrorists Win

At the five-year break, Bin LadenS 1 : World 0.

As the world approaches the anniversary of the two infamous airplanes penetrating two tower buildings, one can evaluate and examine the winners and losers of the alleged "War on Terrorism" launched momentarily after the dreaded incident. In order to do so, it must be determined: “When the attacks were planned and eventually executed, what was the objective of whoever did it?” (ALERT: This is NOT an intro to another conspiracy theory).

Does anybody in their right mind think that a (relatively) arbitrary act of violence is a feasible way to achieve any short term substantial goals? The announced objective of the cave-dwellers who claimed responsibility for the attacks covered a wide range of impossible motives and “excuses”: from sudden concern about the Palestinians and a need to avenge their martyrs (the oldest trick in the book for any radical), to a call and an act of objection towards the American presence in the land of the holy shrines of Mecca and Medina (although it seems more viable if they would have targeted the American-installed royalty presiding over the shrines), and the ultimate ridiculousness of attempting to spread Islam in the land of infidelity (sounds like a very reasonable approach!!), among other alleged motives that appear and disappear according to necessity.

Despite the fact that the incident was carried out in the name of Arabs and Muslims, it ended up causing them the most damage and harm, on so many different levels, and that is the undisputable fact after five years. Hence, the motive for such an act had to be simpler than that advertised. In his tenure as the president of the United States, Bush jr. may have never uttered a more factual statement than “They are targeting our way of life”, regarding the objectives of 9/11. After five years the Bin LadenS are raising a banner on top of their (air-cave carrier) that reads: “Mission Accomplished”.

The self-proclaimed “land of the free” and the country that once welcomed new-comers to its shores with a statue announcing: “Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free”, has been exposed and dramatically changed on one day. When it comes to America’s foreign policy, the changes may have not been as significant, since evil empires are accustomed to exploiting weaker countries, but the events of 9/11 definitely sparked, sped up, and even “justified” the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. So besides being engaged in financially and emotionally draining wars on multiple fronts, the American people are led by an incompetent president along with a frantically religious, yet corrupt, administration. Besides the random killing of civilians overseas Americans has to put up with the Department of Homeland Security, the Patriotic Act, unlawful detentions without trial, multiple secret prisons in various countries, innovative torture techniques and prisoners suicide, socially-acceptable racial profiling based on skin color and religious beliefs, increased bureaucracy from airports to daily transactions, reformed immigration laws, economic recession while the arm and oil industry are achieving record profits, corporate corruption, a completely random color-coded terror alert to promote constant fear, spying and secret phone wiretapping. A few changes the American way of life had to endure, without much objection. All in all, Bin LadenS managed to make America an improved version of a third world country. Add to this the fact that Bush jr. has divided the world into two sides: “with us versus against us” and into “good versus evil” using a language eerily similar to that of terrorists who view the world as a battle of similar terms, and that is more “results” than any terrorist has ever dreamt of.

Abu Shreek is not worried about America, which for all he cares can go burn in the trash bin of history along with all deceased empires that once thought they were invincible. But the main concern is importing the American experience to our societies in the Middle East. The minimal improvements our societies have achieved in the areas of personal freedom should not be compromised by our fears and emotions. The governments are utilizing a few separate and scattered incidents (some of them are fabricated, allegedly) to install a new culture of fear and to manipulate the emotions and compassion of people to shove more oppressive laws down our throats. The installment of new sets of “policing” laws in the name of the victims is a cheap exploitation of them and their grieving families.

Some of our countries main assets were “safety and tranquility”, and that should not be surrendered to anti-terrorism laws and internal-intelligence-lead anti-terrorism units that arrest random people from the safety of their homes under the cover of darkness. The objection to such drastic measures is not an endorsement for terrorism or whoever mental-retard that chooses to support it, neither it is a sign of lack of compassion to those who lost their lives. It is just a belief that if Abu Shreek was strip-searched before entering a movie theatre or detained with “terrorist affiliation” charge based on something he said, he would feel more violated than safe.

Monday, June 19, 2006

WC: Straight Shooting (I)

A few thoughts from the second set of matches of the WC ’06

How many touches do you need to score a goal? In the previous round, Germany scored a goal from almost midfield on one touch (throw in and shot), Saudi Arabia covered the field from coast to coast on three touches (on Sami Aljaber’s strike), both goals among the best of the tournament. But no goal (maybe in the history of soccer) compares to Argentina’s second against S&M. Keep in mind the game was still close and S&M was still playing with 11 and defending hard. From the minute Riquelme stripped the ball to his defender around the top of their own box, there were 26 consecutive players touching the ball before it was in the goal. 26 passes with no player touching the ball more than twice and no player keeping the ball for more than two seconds. The back heel from Crespo was touch number 25- un-freaking-interrupted - before Cambiasso struck it home. Simply, a joy to watch.

It appears like every soccer injury that occurs on the field, no matter how much pain the player seems to be in, is curable either by a squirt of water or that spray can.

It seems rather offensive to have a team captain named (Milosevic). It is the equivalent of having a player named (Hitler) leading the German attack. On the bright side S&M gave us the most embarrassing performance of the tournament

Some of the most intriguing games of the world cup are those with historic reflections: like colonies playing their old occupiers (Angola/Portugal), Spain versus the Arabs reenacting (La Reconquista) and the battle of Granada (Arabs got crushed after apparant early victories) , and especially those World War II “rematches” which provided one of the few reasons to watch Germany vs. Poland (thanks for coming to the cup Poland, you really left a mark). And then, there is an outside shot of an England/Germany face off in the second round. Let’s see if the weak English defense can handle another Blitzkrieg.

Reason 433 to hate England (a.k.a. the root of all evil): 1.9 million dollars were wagered on the games in Britain. Some of those bets were definitely placed in favor of the below-average English team. But it seems like the world has to wait a little longer before enjoying the misery of those arrogant bastards. Maybe even after the round of sixteen.

There is no way anyone is taking Ecuador seriously. If we consider their two less-than-impressive wins against Poland and Costa Rica (you too, thanks for coming), their goalkeeper and his painted face, and the worst celebration in the history of sports (the fact that the yellow Spiderman/Tweety mask came out of the crotch of a player who has been running around for more than an hour, only to watch him slip it on his head is just disgusting), they are not on the same level of Germany and not even England.

Speaking of celebrations: Even before Ghana’s No. 15 whipped out that rag representing the zionist flag out of his sock (he did not even score so he should not be allowed to have his customized celebration), I thought of a headline-making celebration: A Saudi player scores and takes off his shirt revealing a Bin Laden picture printed on his undershirt, while various Saudi officials are having multiple heart attacks.

More proof that life is not fair: TnT/England, Brazil/Australia, Ivory Coast/Holland.

There is no reason that countries within distant time zones should ever host the world cup. It is really more enjoyable when games are watched at a human-friendly time, other than staying up until 3 a.m. in the morning to catch the kickoff. All hosts have to be within 3 hours of the GMT.

Some impressive players from the last round: Giovanni Van Bronckhorst(5) (great defensive effort), , Robin van Persie (17) /Holland (best use of a chest since...(censored)), Ze Roberto(11) , Robinho (23) (should start infront of Ronaldo, that will give Ronaldo a better chance to get his 3 goals and the record) /Brazil. Emmanuel Adebayor(4)/ Togo (you would think he is a “find” if he is not already signed with Arsenal), Michael Essien(8)/Ghana, Sorin(3)/ Argentina (best flanking back, way better than the aging Roberto Carlos and Cafu) and Anis Ayari(19)/ Tunisia (beyond his defensive effort (Tunisia’s defense suffered after he left), he gets credit for the (A)’s carved on both sides of his head).

Goats of the round: Italian defender Zaccardo(2) own goal (the Italian backline may be more vulnerable than usual with two newcomers Zaccardo and Grosso, although they did not allow an american shot on target), the whole Czech team (very disappointing), the whole S&M team (embarrassing), Fabien Barthez (could have done better on the tying goal, and looks shaky. Also Gallas (5) could have done like England’s John Terry and gave a better effort on saving the ball).

Here is a simplified French guide on the chances that we will watch the legend of Zidane play in one more world cup game (he is suspended against Togo):
France wins by at least two goals. (France advances)
France wins by at least one goal, Swiss or S.Korea wins (France+Winner advance)
France wins 1-0, Swiss /Korea tie (with any score) (Swiss+S.Korea advance)
France wins 2-1, Swiss /Korea tie (0-0) (Swiss+Coin toss)
France wins 2-1, Swiss /Korea tie (any score more than 0-0) (Swiss+Korea)
(Conclusion: In case the Swiss and Korea tie, France must score at least two goals, and an extra goal for every goal Korea scores (if Frances's winning margin is only one goal), just to force a coin toss).

Some deciding games from other groups round based on the absence of huge upsets (like Japan beating Brazil or SA beating Spain): Australia/Croatia (winner advances, tie Australia advances), Ukraine/Tunisia (winner advances, tie Ukraine advances) , everybody is still alive in Group E (Italy misses only if they lose) and as expected the potentially most exciting game of the first round (Argentina/Holland) is meaningless. A second round game between Holland/Portugal will be a chance for the Dutch to avenge their euro 04 loss.

There was an exaggerated overreaction to the cards issued by the referee of the Italy/USA. I think the ref did a very good job and most importantly he was consistent, unlike what he was accused of being arbitrary. The first Italian player threw an elbow that caused three stitches and a plate inserted into America’s Brain McBride(20) grill, and De Rossi(4) must face multiple-game suspension. The Americans played with excessive roughness all game (they misunderstood "team toghness" as roughness) and has to be kept in check. Mastroeni’s (4) tackle that caused his immediate ejection could be interpreted as (with intention to injure) since it was a two-foot tackle, similar to that of Kuzman(8) against Argentina that was disciplined in the same manner. The ejection of Pope (23) could be a little harsh but he already earned his first yellow card anyway. Despite the seemingly large number of cards, and the unfair issue of some of them (it is a judgement call after all), I think that the excessive cards are good for later rounds, since the regulation committee seems determined to protect the players and the games from being extra rough which kills the action.

Sweden/Paraguay, Japan/Croatia, Mexico/Angola, better off watching paint dry. Zzzzzzzz.

The other judgment call seems to have its ugly head poking out again. I do not have any conclusive visual evidence but there is a chance that van Nisterlooy game winner, Ronaldinho entry pass to Ronaldo that resulted in the first goal and broke the game open , and Fred’s goal on the rebound, all could be offsides.

To be delivered at Western Amman/Jordan,
A short letter to the casual fan, that extra enthusiastic, face painting, bandwagon jumper,seasonal, obnoxious stupid idiot:
Dear Poser,
The world cup is not a event where you can practice your shameless outrageous behavior. Acts of public display of idiocy should not be done in the name of sporting events. You make it an embarrassment for self-respecting people to follow sports even though they like it and consider it a civilized means of entertainment. There is no extra personal emotional value stored in sporting events for you, unless your close family members are competing. So please pick up your Brazilian flag, stop screaming in my ear, call No. 15 and No. 6 from Ghana, and go die.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Archive: World Domination

A pre-edited version of this article originally ran in a student publication on October 04, 2004, under the title " Look Outside his Box". Abu Shreek was attempting to demonstrate possible reasons for the anti-American sentiments in the Arab world, beyond the president’s explanation.

Quoting President Bush, who has simplified the anti-American sentiments in the Middle East and Arab world on various occasions by saying, “They hate our freedom!” This is an inaccurate statement as much as it is confusing. How can anybody hate freedom?! Being free is a human instinct, and there is no possible (situation) where it could be the reason for hatred.

So let’s try to disagree with the president and look outside his box. Other reasons for resentment might be the fact that American culture and values are taking over the world. Corporate America decided to expand to new markets and conquer the world. But for some reason (the relentless advertising machine), apparently people all over the world seem to be in favor of blue jeans, burgers and even frequenting their local Starbucks, so there should be no problem there. The day McDonald’s opened in Jordan, the line of cars at the drive-through window was almost six miles long. (Actually Abu Shreek ditched his engineering drawing class that day and joined the endless lines outside of McDees. Abu Shreek noticed a little girl carrying a sign that read (I Love Mcdonal), another one painted her face red and yellow. When Abu Shreek reached the counter he realized that he actually has to pay for his order (two of every item on the menu) so he cancelled it and fled the scene wondering: how could it be that so many people showed up for that junk (food), even though it was not free!!)

Maybe some people are getting uneasy with the fact that English is challenging and infiltrating the national languages, even to the point of completely replacing them as a mother tongue in some communities and circles. Well, what about the wide spread of new values and mentality that praise greed and selfishness over simple living and social compassion some socities were accustomed to?! All significant issues that are not quite enough to cause that level of resentment to America.

But this is what drives the Arab world crazy: American foreign policy.
(A few days ago), a U.N. resolution, condemning so-called "Israel" for its latest military operation against civilians in the Gaza strip and asking it to stop the offensive attacks, was presented to the Security Council. Eleven countries voted in favor, three abstained and one voted against the measure. Since that one vote was cast by the United States, which has veto power, the resolution was voted dead.
In that volatile region, the most important issue (along with the latest Iraq occupation) is the Palestinian issue. It is definitely the motive and the drive of most political actions in the Middle East. Throughout the years, dictatorship-oriented governments all over the region have used Palestine as their excuse for the lack of democracy, claiming that the priority is the Palestinian issue. The Palestinian cause has been the stated reason for most major military conflicts in the area, from Lebanon’s civil war to the Iraq-Iran war, even the 1990 Iraqi invasion (and reclamation) of Kuwait. I can guarantee that today’s fundamentalist fanatics are using it as a tool to recruit and gain support for their crazy radical groups.
(The past few days) have featured even more large-scale military (Zionist) operations against civilians living in refugee camps. The (Zionist) army is using the same old claim that militants are hiding in residential areas. These operations leavesdozens of dead civilians, of whom very few are what (Zionists) consider “activists.” Many civilians, including children, already live in miserable conditions forced by the occupation forces, and as if that is not enough, they now have to suffer the destruction of their homes and even the loss of their lives and the lives of their loved ones. The Palestinians have realized since 1990 that the peace process is the only way to resolve their issues, and they kept seeking the support of the international community to push the (Zionist State) back to the negotiation table and to rejuvenate the stalling peace process. But if you were the (so-called) “Israel”, with the mighty military power and the unlimited American support, (especially in an election year), why would you want to negotiate? Why would you be even interested in a peace process?

(Every reader is to be sure) that “Israel” represents the No. 1 threat to the stability of the Middle East and to the world as a whole. It is a “country” that does not abide by international law and continuously violates U.N. resolutions (224, 338, 193 as examples) with no consequences whatsoever. It is well-documented that “Israel” has maintained programs for the production and development of weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons, since the 1960s. The world is watching Israel commit genocide against Palestinians, and nobody can even issue a condemning statement. The European Union (considered at a time) enforcing a boycott on “Israel” ,(on the same basis of that issued against the racist South African apartheid government during the 1980s), while the United States continues its blind support for Israel, accepting the claims of “fighting terrorists” and “absence of peace partner” while a complete population of Palestinians is being exterminated.
The best approach for America to gain acceptance in the Middle East is not by starting propaganda radio and TV stations and definitely not by occupying more Arab countries (after all they already control them all), but by changing its blatant discrimination policies in the region.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

WC: The First Annual World Cup Awards

Handing out first stage first round awards while trying to figure out: When Sweden and Trinidad and Tobago played, how did they all fit on the same field?

The world cup first round takes forever. I still think that raising the number of teams from 24 to 32 solved some problems (more seats for Asia and Africa, no best-thirds qualifying to the second round), but it is almost impossible for a functional human being to watch every minute of every first round game. After a first look at every team here are my first stage, first round, first annual awards:

The 1990 World cup and its all-time low 2.2 goals/game average award for the ultimate snooze fest: Too many games and too many candidates. Even the opening game that featured 6 goals had big dead times (between the 20-65 absolutely nothing happened), but that is a part of the game. England/Paraguay, Ecuador/Poland, Mexico/Iran were a waste of time. But the award goes to Portugal/Angola,(Figo) still has some gas left in his tank, but this game was as exciting as watching grass grow. I guess Group D is the true group of (slow) death.

The late Andreas Escobar award for “I am going to live, right? It was just an own goal in the first round, and I did not mean it! It is not only my fault, I can't get shot!!” : Paraguay’s captain 4(Carlos Gammara), who was trash-talking the English before the game calling them the third best team in the group and questioning Beckham manhood (who doesn’t?), only to deflect one of Beckham’s infamous free kicks into his own goal. That cost his team a valuable point, against a flat English team in a tough group. On the other hand, if you are Paraguay and you just gave an own goal and lost your starting keeper in the first ten minutes of the first game, the odds are you are not going too far this year.

The Taribo West award for the most bizarre hair-do: Some trends that were thought of as weird when they first appeared are considered normal: the long curly hair (Argentina’s Aimar and Sorin), the pony tail no matter how atrocious (Italy’s Camoranesi) and even the ridiculous Beckham's mohawk and the mullet mohawk variation (Spain’s Torres and Germany’s Klose) are nothing weird. Some of the most annoying hair styles so far are :
21(Wilhelmsson)/Sweden: obviously he decided to get rid of his mullet before the cup and maybe thought it is too valuable to lose it all together, so he left a single strand of hair hanging from the left side of the back of his head.
9 (Kone) /Ivory Coast: is sporting the should-be illegal blond-hair-on-an-African player look, made famous by the-thank-god-he-is-injured only for the ugliness of his hair Cisse. Actually the whole Ivory Coast had an assortment of bad hair styles: (Flattened long hairs (3), grey-dyed afros (18)…), and their team did not play all that great against Argentina.
20 (Loco) /Angola: is still hung on the extinct shaved head with a long front. The front is extra long and glued to his forehead. Unacceptable.
9 (Takahra) /Japan : a variation of the Beckham mohawk. It is very thin, it starts from the middle of the top of his head and it is dyed some shade of red. We may have a winner here.
5(Cambiasso) /Argentina : is not trying to pull any look off, and that is his problem. I understand that balding is natural and incurable but you have to make a decision soon, and cannot keep the little hairs in the front with longer sides. It may work for a butcher or a baker but it is not a professional look for a soccer player.
3(Karim Hagguai) /Tunisia: If you look closely above his left ear, he has too concentric curved lines carved into his head and curving around his ear. Unnecessary.
14 (Lee Chun-Soo) /South Korea: Average hair length that is bleached almost white. The roots are still black along with a cheesy, I-just-hit-puberty mustache which looks to be bleached as well. Ladies and gentlemen the most disturbing look of the year.

The 1990 Sergio Goycochea award for the substitute goalie who comes out of nowhere to lead his team to the promise land: 1(Shaka Hislop) of Trinidad & Tobago. After Argentina’s starting keeper (Pumpido) broke his leg in the opener Goycochea fills in, shuts out Brazil in the second round, blocks two PKs against Yugoslavia, another two gainst Italy (in shootouts) and almost gets to Andreas Brehme cup winning cheap PK. Hislop is not going to take TnT that far but they could sneak into the second round after the courageous showing against Sweden. This team plays hard and they have 19(Dwight York) anchoring their defense, after years of anchoring Man U’s front line. Plus, if you have an IV league education (Hislop played at Brown University, studied Mechanical Engineering and interned with NASA) you have to win an award here.

The 2002 Sweden/Senegal award for the game that dramatically exceeds expectations: Australia/ Japan. The winner of this game is a candidate to join Brazil out the group, which was one of the few reasons to tune in. The result was the best game of the first round: after the tying Aussie goal in the 83’ Japan responded with two scoring chances before Australia added two more goals to cap the most exciting ten minutes of the cup. Tunisia/Saudi Arabia was as dramatic in its last ten minutes and could have won at least a split of the award, but our editors discriminate against Arabs. There were a few decent games during the opening round (Brazil/Croatia, Argentina/Ivory Coast, maybe Holland/S&M), but none compares to the above game, which could have been better if…

The (Masri-ya-7akam : calling a referee “Egyptian” to describe his lousy calls and to imply potential bribery, a Jordanian tradition based on the Basketball gold medal game against Syria in the 1992 Arab Games) award for refereeing incompetence: coincidently goes to the Egyptian referee of Japan/Australia. Al-Fatah helped ruin a great effort by both teams. On Japan’s first goal number 9(Takahara) and 13(Yanagisawa) combined to completely block the keeper, actually almost tackled him, and screened him off getting to the crossed ball. Later on an obvious make-up no-call, he denies number 3 (Komano) a probable PK after he gets violently taken down by 4(Cahill, the hero of the game more for this tackle than his two goals) moments after Australia’s tying score. Other candidates for bad calls include Ecuador’s second goal against Poland (offside), TnT’s 3(Avery John) ejection against Sweden (too harsh) and Spain’s PK with 17(Vashchuck) ejection to start the second half (Cheap 9(Torres) dive).

The surprised/screwed husband award for the recipient of an overwhelming gift that caught him unprepared (WOW honey, you got me a car for Christmas! Mmmm, I made you a mixed tape and a sock bunny) : Mexico/Iran pre-game flag exchange. Iran’s captain presented the Mexican captain with a huge picture frame that contains a Persian rug or something of that nature, along with a blue velvet box, and he whispers something to him. The surprised Mexican player gives him, well, a flag. A cheap-looking plastic "thingie" that has the Mexican colors, and the minute (Ali Daei) grabs it, a little piece of white rope falls out and drops right in front of him.

The genius couch potato award for second guessing professional coaches who are managing world class teams goes to The following two comments:
-So, the guy is the Italian Series-A second leading scorer last year, and he is a proven scorer on the international level (31 goals in 61 caps) and you could not find some playing time for David Trezeguet in a 0-0 game, but you think it is a good idea to play Vikas (the French are catching up to outsourcing), and now you have not scored in the world cup in the last four games.-
-So, you are representing too splitting countries and your backline is your strength, and you decided it is a good idea to play an offside trap right at mid field to start the game against a super fast Robben and Dutch team. It was almost broken in the first minute, and minutes later it was actually broken for the game winner, and now there is even a smaller chance of a S&M vs. TnT match up in the quarterfinals for the first soccer doubles ever.

The Jordan TV award for the worst coverage of a sporting event: ESPN. The self-declared World wide leader in sports is providing a terrible experience for the soccer fan who is forced to watch through them. They are constantly missing little details (no pre-game line-ups, no mention of the names of the refereeing crew, ignores substitutions, constant talking over live action, constant discussion of the American team). They are constantly trying to accommodate the American casual fan (who is NOT watching), using farfetched baseball and basketball analogies. The commentators and studio analysts are terrible. On the bright side it is relatively free (with cable). A few notes from the world wide leaders and their commentators:

During Iran/Mexico game: “When Iran beat the U.S. in 98, women were removing their scarves in public” awkward pause “that is unheard of”. (Straight out ignorant and insensitive, along with constant unnecessary political references to Iran during a soccer match).
Togo/South Korea game: “I am not sure how tall this player is but he looks like he is 6-13, laugh, Oh I mean 7-1. (The player was 2(Nibombe) and he is 6-5, and I guess the 6-13 was supposed to be a joke)
During Brazil/Croatia game: “They say in Brazil soccer is like a religion. No disrespect”, the other genius follows up “of course the statues of Christo is overlooking the whole country. You should see it when you visit.”
During Angola/Potugal game: “Cristiano Ronaldo has more moves than Mariah Carey.” (I am not even sure what that means since Mariah Carey is not known for her dancing).
During Holland/S&M nobody ever mentions the absence or even references the absence of the Dutch star player 10 (Van der Vaart). I find this annoying.
After the opening game the crew moves to the inside the studio mini-field so that Eric Wynalda can re-enact Germanys first goal! Wynalda a former U.S. “star” is in a complete formal suit, while the other host assumes the goalie position with his legs wide while his knees are squeezed in a stance that screams “please don’t kick it in my crotch”. After Wynalda blabbers forever causing the host to move aside from the goal, he dribbles a weak ball that looks nothing like Germany's first goal that ripped the 90 degree corner of the Costa Rica goal.

And they have a girl doing studio analysis (Not that there is anything wrong with that).

The Bin Laden/ Gas prices award for the thing that most annoys the average American casual fan : A split between the offside, and the stretcher on the field. Just like Filippo Inzaghi, American fans will never understand the offside rule and will never accept it. Seriously, What is the point? Referees has problems correctly calling it, fans and players hate it, and the offside trap is the cheapest scheme ever invented. How do you think the first striker who was all alone, because the defenders moved up not because he moved in, felt?
Also, American’s feel offended when a player leaves on a stretcher and jogs back into action seconds after reaching the sidelines. It makes sense. When Germany's 8(Frings) leaves on a stretcher, comes back and within a second and rips the best goal in the cup from almost midfield, you have to feel that something is wrong. Any player who leaves on a stretcher should do the Jan Koller thing and let them carry him all the way to the locker room.

The Michael Owen award for the star who is prematurely announced “the best in the world”: These are the players who were very impressive in the opening game, and I hope they do not fade away, resembling Owen’s soccer career:
11(Arjen Robben) /Holland: He was very active and all the Dutch play went through him. I have to agree with his teammate 17(van Persie) that Robben was a little selfish and could have set up his teammates better but he played a good game.
11(Pavel Nedved) /Czech Republic: He made a great decision to play in this cup. He was very dynamic and moved a very impressive team.
10(Tomas Rosicky) /Czech Republic: Very dynamic in the front with an accurate strong shot. I hope he keeps it up against better teams.

The David Copperfield award for the best disappearing act: Did (Ronaldo) play against Croatia, what about (Ronaldinho) ? I must have missed them. (They can thank Kaka for saving face). Has anybody seen the French frontline? and does (Wiltord) know he is starting? Did sitting on the bench at Bayern Munich affect (Ali Karimi) negatively or he just does not care anymore? (Zalatan) actually helped the other team more than his teammates, and I know Spain was dominant, but (Shevchenko) could have taken a shot or something. I hope all those stars have better second games. It is too early.

The 1990 UAE award for an overmatched team in a tough group: USA, who registered the first truly one sided game of the first round, and could leave the cup without a single point based on the game Italy/Ghana played. (Ghana actually competed hard but without really threatening. Italy scored on one of few chances and capitalized on 4(Kuffour)’s error, but they have some fresh blood in their lineup and looked fine too). Ukraine could compete for this award too after getting embarrassed by Spain but they have a better chance to rebound in their group. The conclusion is that it was about time FIFA decided to reconsider the “world rankings” system that had USA ranked at fifth best in the world.

The unidentified awkwardly superstitious trend award: The number (3). If you are a player, especially a defender, wearing the number 3, you should ask to change your number or ask to be scratched from the starting lineup. Just check out some of these misfortunes and mistakes:
3(Arne Friedrich)/Germany single handedly, (Okay, him and the timid Arsenal keeper, bring back Kahn) are responsible for both the Costa Rica’s goals. He was caught breaking the offside trap and he could not catch up to 9(Wanchope) despite his good speed.
3(Avery John)/TnT was sent off (maybe unjustly so) against Sweden, but his team bailed him out and held up for the biggest surprise of the first round.
3(Jamba)/Angola gets turned around ridiculously on a Figo run that resulted in the only chance and goal in the whole game. Angola could have stolen a tie.
3(Yuichi Komano)/Japan failed to clear the side throw after his keeper misjudged it, instead he slid and trapped the ball under him, to have it pop back to the Australian anticipating player for the tying goal. He was later denied what appeared to be a PK on his backline run and of course he was burnt and turned around by 15( John Aloisi) to give up the third Australian goal. (and by the way Yuichi, please tell Teruyuki and Seiichiro that it is impossible to read words that has three successive vowels.).
3(Ruda Tukar)/ Saudia Arabi cleared a cross to with his head to the middle (a basic mistake) to have it bounce of the back of his teammate right in front of 5(Jezeiri) who finished it in on a great semi volley. Of course Number 3(Haggui) of Tunisia was the last defender on the second Saudi goal, and got turned around a bit, but it was not his fault anyway. The Saudis made a great play there, covering the whole field in less than four passes.
3(Jean- Paul Abalo)/ Togo get sent off against Korea. The ensuing free kick is the tying goal and Togo end up losing the game and any possible precious points

The lesson is as always, I need a hobby. (I am kidding this is my hobby).

The Roger Miller Samba dance award for goal celebration excellence: Obviously players are saving their best choreography for the later stages when the stakes are higher, but the best so far goes to 4(Tim Cahill)/Australia, who after his late tying goal, ran to the corner and air punched the corner flag a few times before ducking under. Togo’s primal squirrel group dance is in second place. The worst celebration is Roberto Carlos piggy back ridding his teammate after Brazil’s lone long shot goal. Saudia Arabi group bow was emotional but cannot be considered here because it is praying gesture more than a celebration.(Speaking of celebrations, I was hoping that the latest English overrated flavor of the month 21(Peter Crouch) would score just to make fun of his advertised celebration move (The Robot). Seriously?! Why not the worm? That is so original and hip. And by the way if I were a stick figure journeyman at the age of 25 with all of 7 caps under my belt, I would shut up and play and forgrt about arguing with referees. You got to hate the English.)

The US Weekly Fashion Police award for wardrobe investigation:
The award goes to those who were committed to their classic colors, offering a throwback look (France, Argentina, Spain, Japan). Too many teams featured too much yellow in their uniforms which was not very pleasant to look at (Sweden (should have mixed in more blue), Ukraine, Togo). The yellow color worn by Australia (yellow shirt, green shorts, yellow socks) was less cornea-burning than others. Ecuador tried to offset the yellow by a differently-colored single sleeve (a fashion crime invented by Nike). In addition Ecuador was the only team to wear tri-colors (yellow shirt, blue short, red socks) which does not look good (plus Ecuador colors looks like Venezuela, Peru and Columbia, they should have been more creative).
The uni-color (from head to toe) trend was dominant and annoying, especially for teams who wore all orange (Ivory Coast and Holland) or all bright maroon (Portugal).
The Apparel providers were as follows:
Puma: (12)
dressed more teams than anyone else. All teams shared a similar classic design with two pumas on the shoulders with the different teams colors (maybe with the exception of Italy).
Poland, Ivory Coast, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Angola, Togo, Czech Republic, Iran, Italy, Paraguay (purple blue atrocious color that looked like pajamas), Switzerland, Ghana.
Nike: (8) allowed teams to customize a little more. Also, Nike provided a cool checkered Goalkeeper suit (probably inspired by Dutch club Feyenoord Rotterdam or England's Blackburn Rovers).
Mexico, Holland (polo collar), USA (red stripe in the middle of all navy), Croatia (the usual picnic tablecloth), Portugal, Australia, South Korea (the red orange unidentified color), Brazil.
Adidas: (6) The brand of choice for teams who wanted to go the classic, which looked better than everyone else.
Germany, Spain, Japan, France, Argentina and Trinidad &Tobago (the first team to ever wear baggy shorts on a soccer field, and that will be enough for them to be in the second round).
Umbro: (2)
England (a nice classic look with a strange half collar), Sweden (similar design with no collar).
Lotto: (2) Similar design for their two customers that has multiple offset color wedges in a circular distribution that extends to the shorts (go find a picture).
Serbia & Monte Negro, Ukraine
Joma: (1)
Costa Rica looks like they elected for the cheap. The colors look good but the keeper has a white and purple stripe on an all black suit!
marathon: (1)
Ecuador chose a provider that does not have a website and they need to get rid of the triple colors.

So, until the round of sixteen rolls in, I am only watching significant games, and unless something big happens, (like that stupid Jumbotron hanging from top of Frankfurt Stadium drops on a couple of players and a ref, or another drunk Croatian runs on the field (this time actually stabbing somebody), I am not interested in the world cup till then.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Profile: The Sellout

Abu Shreek realizes that one of the main sources of the Arab population misery resides at the top. “From the Ocean to the Gulf” we are “blessed” with an assortment of (dysfunctionality) at a level that is good enough to trample any civilization no matter how proud it once was.
Abu Shreek chooses to approach this problem in the same manner most of his fellow countrymen and comrades do: A combination of denial and useless whining. After all, Abu Shreek wants to lead a normal life (just like everybody else), with a nine-to-five job, a family and all that good stuff. His selfish nature dictates to him to adhere to the passive mentality of “Walk close to the wall and pray for (obscurity)”, and “Join the rolling heads and wait for your beheading” (loose translation of common Arabic proverbs). The submissive approach is furthermore justified by the inherited feeling of the impossibility of difference-making at that level.(sic)
He believed that he is sharing similar feelings with 90-95% of the 250 million peasants toiling in the Arab “farms”. He believed that the remaining minority mainly consists of the beneficiaries, mercenaries and parasites whom their existence depend on the survival of the “slave master”; the same master who was imposed on us by enemies and occupiers. (As a part of a long term plan, someone somewhere decided that an island with an area less than one-fourth of that of Rhode Island is an “independent” country, with a flag, a national anthem and an “emperor” who would not qualify to manage a falafel stand. And that one is considered one of the better farms.)

Until he realized that there is a group of people who are somehow convinced that we are lead by visionaries and geniuses! This is not the group of “simple” people who are ecstatic because the “prince” passed by their village ten years ago and posed for headlines pictures with their misery. This is not the group usually represented by (Sha3er Nabaty : (Nabatean poetry: incoherent blabber in a slang dialect)), who is completely oblivious to the fact that the “prince” does not understand the poem dedicated to his highness, because his highness does not speak the language. This is a more serious group of “educated elite” and technocrats, who settled for a conference in a five-star hotel sponsored by a representative of his highness. They settled for a tiny piece of the pie and a promise from someone who knows someone who knows the personal secretary who fetches coffee for the cousin of her highnesses, that he will hook them up with a four-digit license plate. In his imaginary universe, Abu Shreek depended on this latter group to win over the first two, and convince the poet that there is no need for medieval court jesters in today's world.

It is one thing to choose to ignore the “Elephant in the Room”, since it looks immovable (That is why it is the “elephant in the room” in the first place). It is one thing to not notice it (Some people have vision issues). It is one thing to have it briefly mistaken for a part of the room that belongs there (since it is been there for a long time). But it is unforgivable to knowingly domesticate and consciously convince oneself to accept the fact that it looks good in there.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Abu Shreek: The Hopeless Romantic

This may sound like a “personal” story but it is not, since everybody knew about it even before she did.

Abu Shreek was admitted to the university. The most frequent question he was subjected to was "Sooo, how are the university chicks?". He took great offense to that inquiry, since his parents had the vision to have him attend one of the pioneer coed schools in his country, and believe it or not, he even had some really good female friends.
Abu Shreek did not appreciate the college environment that much, and that resulted in him confining himself to the same group he was familiar with since high school. He did not believe that meeting "new people" would enhance his "college experience".

Until one day he saw her in her athletic jumpsuit with a pony tail rising from the top of her head. He asked about her name and instantly recognized that she played for the national team. He loved sports. He kept an eye on her for a couple of months and kept thinking of a creative way to make her aware of his existence. He despised the common “by the way this is ….” introduction method, usually employed at JU in such situuations. He thought she was special, and he needed a special approach.

One day (November, 21st) he made an arrangement with a friend from school to help him take the big step. But unfortunately, she had problems with registration (registartaion day is groundhog day for anybody who attended that school), and the Rose was getting pale, so he decided to get his stuff together and approach her without the support of the friend. She was sitting under the tree in the middle of the “Square”, and he had been seeing her everywhere, to the point that it seemed like a good idea at the time, to address her with the line :

-Hi Hanna (obviously not her real name), can I please give you this rose!!

-Her : speechless, but accepting the red rose.

-Her fat friend : “ from who?”

-Him : from me, my name is ….

-Her : speechless and surprised.

-Him : just wanted to say hi in a different way.

-Her: slightly nodding, but obviously not happy.

-Him: walking away.

His friend finally showed up, and Abu Shreek asked her to go check on the mess he just made.
She checked with Hanna and her friends and informed him that he just embarrassed her in front of all six of her girlfriends. So, without reluctance, he trotted back to the scene of the crime and apologized:

“ I am really sorry, all I wanted to do, was to say hi in an unconventional way”.

The next time they talked, was two years later. He convinced a mutual friend (who obviously was unaware of the rose incident) to (re)introduce him to her, but she refused to even exchange pleasantries with him. In the mean time, she kept accepting the ice-creams and chocolate bars he sent her through the little kids who sold gum on campus. That made him happy. He attend all her games in person, (he likes sports anyway), hoping for a chance.

Abu Shreek believed in “Cherchez La Femme” in the sense that "Behind every successful man is a woman". Every accomplishment in his life was driven by a semi-fictional love motivation, and he was not going to stop now. She was everywhere. Some call it Platonic love, but he always created his fictitious parallel universe and treated it as reality. He remained faithful to her illusion through years and years (honestly, only around 4 years). He dropped a dozen roses in front of her door on every birthday. (Since hers was one day before his (what a coincidence!!)). He sent her cards explaining the trifles of his genuine emotions, but he always managed to keep an appropriate distance, to avoid ruining the “thing” that helped him survive through the misery of 18 credits a semester.

Until the “university community service” program, and her final appearance in a national tournament “reunited” them, just like he imagined in that little mind of his. One evening, he picked her up, and they went to dinner. (actually, it was around sunset, since it was during Ramadan, and they were both fasting ), and it was OK. The next “meeting” was a year later, for dinner and an ice-cream treat to follow. But unfortunately, Abu Shreek (now graduated) realized that the whole “thing” was nothing more than his own “Pygmalion”; that same exact one that helped him get through every key challenge he faced. Nonetheless, it was Good Times.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

NBA: The First Finals

Miami Heat vs. Dallas Mavericks
Finals Preview

About two years ago, I worked on an article explaining why professional basketball has regressed dramatically over the previous 4 years. The fan base was quickly deteriorating and the quality of games was sinking to “unwatchable” levels.
Fast forward to the 2006 playoffs, the mark of the league’s probable resurrection. There were four highly entertaining seven-game series, another six series went for six games (that is 10 competitive series out of played 14). Lots of these games were good enough to be considered instant classics. A few stars reached superstardom levels (LeBron, Wade, Dirk, maybe Elton Brand), a few lesser- knowns achieved star-like recognition (Boris Diaw, Josh Howard, Tayshaun Prince), and a lot of the so-called stars did not bother to show up (you know yourselves Carmelo and Co.). All in all, this year's playoffs offered the drama that “re-interested” the casual fan, while featuring very good basketball.

The main complaint so far has been the officiating. When the games are that close and competitive, the league cannot afford to have all these errors and “innocent” mistakes in game calls. The accusation that the NBA is fixed, staged and is nothing put pro-wrestling is ridiculous, but the referees took a lot of heat from the media and the players, and at times, it was justified. (The most irritating was the back to back traveling- no-call game-winners by LeBron James against the Wizards, followed by the “prematurely -crowned king” announcing “I don’t travel, I don’t even know how to travel”).

In conclusion, two well deserving teams made it to the Finals for the first time in the history of their respective franchises. The Dallas Mavericks has finished each of the past five regular seasons with around 60 wins . They were consistent and were considered a title contender throughout the season, (their longest losing streak was 3 games and it only happened once) .They beat the reigning World Champs on their way to the finals. The Miami Heat took a little longer to achieve chemistry with a lot of new faces and a head coaching change, but they were also in contention all along. They won 10 in a row and 15 out of 16 between mid February and mid March, and eliminated the back to back conference champs in the Eastern Finals.
In a seven game series the position by position match ups are constantly changing. Adjustments based on effectiveness of the match up, injuries and contribution of the player at the position are expected. Starting line-ups and playing time is subject to constant change. Players can fill in different positions, other tha theones they are listed to play, based on the game flow.

Postion by position:

Point Guard:
Jason Terry Devin Harris
Jason Williams Gary Payton

The point guard play was one of the main reasons Dallas is in the Finals. After initial doubt that this tandem of a rookie, who struggled with injuries throughout the year, and a shoot-first point guard would be able to replace the departed Steve Nash, both players ended up doing a better than expected job. The total number of assists from the position dropped, but when they shared the same backcourt (especially during the San Antonio series) they gave their team a combination of speed attack to the basket (Harris) and long range shooting (Terry), and constantly caused match up problems.
Williams and Payton are both different players from what they were earlier in their careers. Payton is no longer “the Glove” defensive stopper, but he provides Miami with veteran leadership, Finals experience and clutch performances when called upon. J-Will is no longer doing his “white chocolate” stuff. He will not be running and gunning nor dishing elbow-passes (to fans in the stands). He is more mature on the court and his old style does not fit Miami’s approach. He has been bothered by injuries all year long, but he had a couple of above average games in the playoffs. Payton and Williams can share the backcourt as well especially in relief of Dwayne Wade.

Advantage: Dallas

Shooting Guard:
Adrian Griffin Marquis Daniels
Dwayne Wade

Adrian Griffin was signed as a free agent in the end of November for his defensive effort. As he proved during a previous stint with the team, he continues to be a hustler and a hard worker with little offensive contribution. He should contribute in guarding Wade. As for Daniels, after a good post season performance and a long term contract last year he fell out of favor with the coaching staff and saw his minutes decline. He missed some action due to injuries. He remains an asset coming off the bench, especially when others players are in foul trouble, but he is inconsistent and mistake prone. Dallas uses Terry and Stackhouse at the position when such match ups give Dallas an advantage.
Wade stapled his superstar status he achieved last year. After missing game seven against Detroit last year he came back against them with vengeance, and shot 70% from the field for the first few games. (He finished with 61.7% for the series, still a ridiculous number for a guard). He attacks the basket relentlessly (and gets up eight times for every seven he gets knocked down! , This shoe campaign slogan does not make sense but I will accept it and give him credit for signing with Converse, on a second thought Nike owns Converse so no credit here).He shoots a high percentage at the free throw line (essential to a player who is constantly cutting to the basket), but his long range shooting is sporadic (34 % in the playoffs but only 17% in the regular season). A key player in the series, whom Dallas will try to contain using different players.

Advantage: Miami

Small Forward:
Josh Howard Jerry Stackhouse
James Posey Antoine Walker

Howard has made the jump into the public eye and gained the attention of the casual fan this year. Dallas paid Michael Finely 50 million dollars to go away, being certain that Howard will be a better and younger replacement. When the second year player missed games during March due to an injury, the Mavs felt his absence at both ends of the floor. He is one of the leaders of the defensive revolution of the team, and at crunch time he usually guards the other team's best perimeter player. During the playoffs he is the Mavs third best scorer (only 0.4 points behind Terry) and their second best rebounder, and I own his replica jersey (bought it on sale when Juwan Howard was traded, Josh wears the same number). Stackhouse is not the star he was in Detroit (at a time when the NBA had a shortage on good players), but he was a sixth man of the year candidate (Mike Miller himself athinks Stack should have won it). He takes too many shots at a low percentage (volume shooter which stands for bad shooter) and almost cost his team the San Antonio series. But he remains a valuable veteran who can play multiple positions.
Miami is vulnerable at this position. Posey does not bring anything to the table, and he was temporarily scratched from the starting line-up during the season. Walker can play this position or the other forward position. He spent last year in Dallas playing at the “point forward!” and was an obvious misfit all along. It has not been long since Walker was a super star in this league, but he looks overweight, slow and disinterested. He is taking less 3 point shots at a higher percentage, but he does not look like a difference maker anymore.

Advantage: Dallas

Power Forward:
Dirk Nowitzki
Udonis Haslem

This year’s playoffs will mark Nowitzki taking the next step. His 50-point game against Phoenix could be the exact point where he sprung to that last level. He made the All-NBA first team for the second year in a row, and was one of the top three players in the league. He won the 3-point shooting contest during the All-Star weekend, but he still went almost 4 playoffs games without attempting a 3-pointer, because he does not settle for long jumpers anymore. Everybody agrees that he is the toughest match up in basketball; his trademark jumper from around the free throw line does not miss, and he drives to the basket to either finish strong or sink his free throws. Easily the best player in this years' playoffs.
Haslem is a good hustle player. He does the dirty work, setting up screen and fighting for loose balls and rebounds. He has a good mid range jumper from the top of the key. He will have trouble if matched up against dirk, and Miami’s coaching staff will provide him with help, or alternate him with a smaller player.

Advantage : Dallas

Erick Dampier Desanga Diop
Shaquille O’Neal Alonzo Morning

Dampier is a below-average player. Mark Cuban’s 73-million dollar investment in a big man to be his ticket to the championship had lost his starting job midway through the season for a guy who had 4 total starts on his NBA resume (Diop). Ericka (as Shaq like to refer to him) is a big body and looks in shape, but his slow feet and clumsiness gets him in early foul trouble. He has bad hands around the basket. This is his chance to prove to Shaq that he belongs to the NBA not the WNBA. Diop is a leaner more athletic player who puts more effort, especially on the boards. When the coaches finally decided to use him against Phoenix he clogged the middle efficiently and eliminated easy lay-ups. Both players are not expected to contribute offensively (averaged 7.8 points combined in the playoffs).
Miami has the best center tandem in the league. (Most teams do not even have one legitimate center). Shaq’s performance is highly dependable on the way he is officiated. Will he be allowed to get away with elbowing, shoving and rolling over defenders on his way to a dunk, or would he be more fairly called for all those offensive fouls that will keep him on the bench? (The latter has been more occurring this year. When Shaq was younger and faster it was harder to catch him while executing his trademark move, since the whole thing (the elbow, the back shove, the body slam and the dunk) happened in one quick fluid motion.) Shaq is playing better in this year playoffs than he did in last year’s or in the regular season, but he is no longer the Diesel that terrorized Dallas in the past.
Mourning actually played better than Shaq during the limited action he saw. They even shared the same frontcourt during some stretches. He tore a muscle in his calf late in the regular season but he recovered in time for the playoffs and finished the regular season third in block shots per game, despite averaging less tan 20 minutes a game. Despite his 2003 kidney transplant, he is in good shape and plays hard whenever he is on the court.

Advantage: Miami

Benches and other possible contributors:
The above comparison shows that the Mavs have the edge when it comes to the deeper bench. Other players that may see some playing time for Dallas are Darrell Armstrong who could play in relief of the point guards, he can take care of the ball and plays hard. Keith Van Horn was a decent player a long time ago, and after he broke his wrist earlier this year he would not contribute much even if he were on the court. Miami's bench is thin. Derek Anderson and Shandon Anderson could see limited action with little expected production.

Advantage: Dallas

Head Coach and Coaching Staff:
Avery Johnson
is the won this year's coach of the year award. He changed the culture of the team from the mad-scientist-all-out-offense Don Nelson style to the playoffs-winning- basketball mentality. The players responded to him and to his approach that motivated them, convinced them to play defense and helped them become a tougher team. He has a very good coaching staff (His assistant Del Harris is a veteran NBA head coach who keeps getting job offers) that should help him make on and off court adjustments.
Pat Riley built this team and eventually took over coaching it. Riley paces the sideline in his Italian suites and his slicked back hair with a slightly intimidating presence. He owns the rights to the trademarked term “three peat”, and “No man has led more black men to the promised land than Coach Pat Riley”. He is not going to be out coached by a rookie coach.

Advantage: Miami

Predicting the outcome of sporting events is meaningless. It is illogical and will never comply with what is “on paper”. One key player gets hurt or one player comes out of nowhere and catches fire, and all professional analysts look like idiots.
I will not predict …..
Ahh, I cannot resist…
Mark Cuban is An idiot, but..
Dallas wins 4-1