Whas happeni-oh wrong show

Wha's happeni-oh wrong show

The last day of qualifiers on three continents came and passed today.  In an effort to be more international – I guess – I’m going to try to hit all of them, especially since more of the story in Europe was already done.  (For the perhaps 1 of you who will read this in the absence of a gratuitous reference to a 80s-90s television celebrity, such as Perfect Strangers Bronson Pinchot.)


Wow that picture of Bronson Pinchot really crowds out the screen - photo credit AP

Wow that picture of Bronson Pinchot really crowds out the screen - photo credit AP

The last two teams to secure automatic qualification clinched it today, both on the strength of just-barely-enough performances.  In weather conditons that can only be described as horrendous – or hysterical – Slovakia edged out Poland on the strength of an early own goal.  This was as expected, though the late challenge by second place Slovenia in the Slovakian capital last weekend transformed this match from a lame duck showing.

In sunnier climes, if one would like to refer to Basel that way, group winner Switzerland and Israel played to a scoreless and rather unexciting draw. (Though tell that to the Swiss fans in attendance.)  For the Swiss this was actually a rather close-run thing; had they lost by a single goal today, second-place Greece‘s 2-1 victory over Luxembourg would have been sufficient to propel them into pole position.  Both Switzerland and Greece seemed to be playing surprisingly conservatively, or at least without a great deal of verve; but with a Greek attempt to storm into first place out of their hands all parties may have just thought it best to be slow and steady.

Portugal and Ukraine were the last teams to nab playoff berths without being in contention for their respective top spots.  Portugal gained a decisive (and inevitable) victory over Malta, while Ukraine did the same over Andorra.  On a personal note I continue to be infuriated with the lackluster play England exhibited in allowing Ukraine both to ruin their perfect record and edge out Croatia for the playoff.  I will undoubtedly continue to air this opinion at every opportunity.

As predicted, Norway was excluded from the second-place playoffs on the basis of weak group performance. Perhaps ironically, had Scotland not experienced their calamitous defeat to the Norwegians, or had they overcome the Dutch in their last meeting, it would instead have been the Irish Republic excluded. I mourn for the benighted Scots and their benevolent, long-suffering fans. But soccer, like politics and alcoholism, is an enterprise which worships always towards the dawn.

Second-place playoffs

You kiddin me?!

You kiddin' me?!

The draws for the second-place playoffs will be next Monday. (I think…)  Because Sepp Bladder is a man I might only describe in a terms both inventive and exceptionally lewd, Europe will be having a seeding system for its playoffs.  The initial plan (though it was never shared with anyone, so how could we know?) was to have the eight second-place qualifiers randomly paired off, each to play one game at home and one away, with the overall winner of each to gain the final four places. However there is now to be seeding based on next week’s FIFA World Rankings, which orders teams by a variety of factors based on international performance. The top four teams will be placed in one pot; the bottom four teams in another. Teams will be paired only with those from the other pot, which assures that the “best” teams will face weaker opposition. These latter are furious, with Irish coach Trapattoni being especially vocal about it, but I don’t see Bladder backing down.

Almost assuredly, the high pot will consist of Russia, France, Portugal and Greece and the dregs with Ukraine, Ireland (I think we can dispense with this Republic business, yes?), Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. We don’t know who will be paired with whom, of course, so speculation is early, but some conclusions are possible. Russia will qualify, knocking out whoever is set against them with indecent ease. (I dreamed they would do so to Portugal… alas.) Besides Russia the ironic truth is that none of the top teams are that good. France took second in a weak group; had any of the virtuous thirds like Sweden, Finland or Croatia been placed with them I doubt they’d have come this far. Portugal and Greece are notionally strong and rallied towards the end. Greece didn’t face a really tough group, so they have to be rated as faltering, but Portugal really were in a bad neighborhood with Denmark and Sweden and should be credited with a late rally. They’re not as sure a thing as Russia but they’re odds of their failure are 3:1 against.

What about the “dregs”? Again, without pairings this is speculation, but none of the four were deeply-impressive runners up. Ukraine is notionally the strongest, but they were pretty eh. B/H did just well enough to beat failing Turkey and a Belgian team in almost as bad a shape as their country. They could maybe beat Greece but they’re not giant killers. Slovenia fought their way through a very tough group, and did so as unexpectedly as forcefully, but the fact that they overcame an evenly-matched group doesn’t mean they beat a good group. Ireland, however, have been turning in powerful performances and went undefeated in their group, nearly holing the Italians in the process. (And even at half-speed Italy are no slouch.) I like their chances best, and am in fervent negotiations with the Almighty to ensure they’re not paired against Russia. In the atmosphere Slovenia and Ukraine are balanced for second-best-second, Slovenia on hustle and Ukraine on talent, with B/H trailing behind.


The North American section closed with a bang – indeed a veritable Soccer War – tonight as an excruciatingly-late stoppage time equalizer prevented the Costa Ricans from clinching automatic qualification in Washington, DC. A game at which I was not present. I didn’t know soon enough, I tell myself. I can’t afford it, I tell myself. And still wish I’d gone.

This was morally important for the US, as it left us at the top of the fourth round group (an all-important point above Mexico) in a week in which the US team was plagued with disastrous injuries. The last, a rather severe tendon issue with Oguchi Onweyu late in the second half, follows a day after Charlie Davies’ car accident outside the District and left the side Estadosunidense at ten men going into stoppage. Compounding the bizarre pageantry of the whole affair, Costa Rica’s coach Renê Simões was ordered off the field (along with an assistant) following some substitution clusterfuck – perhaps in view of the paucity of time left, the referee refused it and he got lippy. Retaliating, the referee left a full five minutes on the clock, allowing the Hail Mary goal that saw Honduras qualify for the World Cup for the first time.

Well THATS rather uncalled for

Well THAT'S rather uncalled for

I didn’t see much of the Honduras game, but it was apparently tight and pretty brutal.  El Salvador could easily have tied it up and left Honduras (as I’d predicted) to slug it out with the CONMEBOL fifth-place. But now it is Costa Rica that will go in their stead. In soccer as in life, someone else always pays for your success.


By comparison South America’s final night was somewhat humdrum if you weren’t secreted away in a Buenos Aires suburb with a spicy Argentinian lover and a deactivated Blackberry/wife and kids. Argentina frustratingly managed a desultory goal in the 84th minute of play that turned out to be completely extraneous, given that Chile sent Ecuador quietly into the good night. A sad end to the city that hosted the first World Cup, but Uruguay’s night was tinged with hope, as Ecuador’s loss also guaranteed them the playoff spot against the fourth-placed North American side. Their dog will have its day in two matches against Costa Rica.


I would generally rate Costa Rica the favorite. But Uruguay has done arguably better in an inarguably tougher milieu, and the endless series of qualifiers they’ve played starting two years ago has got to whet the appetite. Costa Rica will have something to prove, but the crushing nature of the draw to the US tonight has something to do with a sense of entitlement on their side.

But then again Uruguay’s wins haven’t been all that impressive. You get the sense Argentina rather deserved to go on if that was going to be their opposition. If Costa Rica faces similar they’ll seize the lifeboat of one of the last 2010 spots.

AFC-OFC playoff

Bahrain to win. Even if they weren’t a better team – it’s not clear – they’ll be away when they face New Zealand again, which means that a non-scoreless draw will see them through. I actually don’t know what happens if they draw scorelessly. Penalty shootouts, I imagine. New Zealand might have a shot there, as playing a tournament against Tuvalu and the Federated States of Micronesia must be very like practicing penalty shots.


Oh for fuck’s sake.

I stand by my predictions - Cameroon, Nigeria, Algeria

I stand by my predictions - Cameroon, Nigeria, Algeria


Your next CEO: Me

21 August 2009

Dear potential employers,

It has come reluctantly to my attention that the job market is not in such a condition that a 21 year-old with a liberal arts degree and a bad attitude commands employment.  At least not the sort of employment that consists of an unforgivably cushy white-collar job and possibly access to an organizational line of credit.  Sadly, I am grossly unqualified for positions that involve actually performing some useful task by the collective inadequacy of the American school system, and I have become convinced that my attempt at writing an edgy cover letter has simply come across as unhinged.  (Perhaps this is what I get for attempting to use the word “felicity” after 1800.)

The problem

The problem

Nevertheless a job must be had if I am to pay for my British-style teeth in the absence of British-style health care.  So not only must I cast a wider net – indeed the entire interwebs!!!!111! – but also must adapt the horizon of available jobs.  This is difficult for me.  I do quite like money.  But I’m not terribly fond of work.  You see the dilemma.

But in every problem lies a solution.  It was the recognition of this trite rhetorical truth that revealed to me the very simple fact that I must be your next CEO.  Chief Executive Officer.  By repeating the acronym in full I sound decisive and grounded.

You see, I watch television.  I even watched CNBC once.  I found all of the numbers boring and obtuse but I got the jist of it.  The market is a shambles.  Corporations are leaderless and in disarray.  Lately leading these behemoths of industry has become a job that is as political as managerial or economic.  What aspiring young executive wants to be hassled by irritating politicians and C-SPAN obsessives while collecting a paycheck backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government?  Not you.  Doing blow just isn’t the same when Lou Dobbs is watching.

That, of course, is why you need me.  I am the perfect Chief Executive Officer for today’s American corporation.  Indeed I’d thrive in any of the most benighted of our country’s gentle giants.  Why?  I thought you’d never humor me by asking while mugging to your friend at an adjacent table.

I have no past. I don’t mean this like, “I don’t have a criminal record.” (Though at present I do not.)  What I mean is this: where am I from?  Who have I worked for?  What have I done for them?  What happened to my twin sister?  There is absolutely nothing for an enterprising young journalist to discover in my closet simply because my life before becoming Captain of Industry has been empty and pointless.  I haven’t made any of the occasional mistakes that give American business a bad name.  You needn’t worry about scandals anymore.  Nobody goes looking into the vice presidents.

I can pretend to understand anything. No one need know you’re hired an incompetent to direct a multibilliondollar enterprise.  I will stymie Board members and federal investigators alike with my clever tactic of speaking slowly and repeating everything said to me as a question.  Consider:

    Board member: Profits are off fifteen percent on the quarter.

    Me: Fifteen percent?

    Dilletante: Yes, we’ve lost significant market share since the details of Project Lambda became public.

    Me: Oh – market share?

    Obnoxious twat: For some reason investors don’t like to hear that we’re intentionally poisoning an entire Idaho town.

    Me: The whole town?

    Rabblerouser: So that it could be bought out and replaced with a theme park dedicated to Hannah Montana.

    Me: Miley Cyrus?

    I will do only what you tell me. Too often when a company runs into trouble, the government or some know-it-all

    Me with United Colors of Benneton office staff

    Me with United Colors of Benetton office staff

    douchebag on the Board insists on busing in a technocrat directly from Harvard Business School to turn your company around – a technocrat who might not see the wisdom in committing genocide in the name of a rural tween-themed menagerie.

    I have no such obstreperous moral compass.  I don’t know anything about your company and I don’t want to.  I’ll come in at 9:30, leave at 5, take long lunches and sign whatever is placed under my nose.  If necessary I can also develop a bumbling-but-loveable public personality to deflect public attention from the growing black hole emanating from the Accounts department.

    All gone!

    All gone!

    I am completely disposable. Let’s be honest.  I’m just along for the ride, and eventually your continued leadership will continue to degrade your company’s position. What then?  You get yourself a new CEO. I’m perfectly capable of faking my own death or getting caught up in an embarassing sex scandal/drug bust/furry-themed birthday party to help ease the transition. I go down to a humiliating end and ride off into the sunset, never to be heard from again.  You hire another blank suit to rubber-stamp your decisions.  Best of all, I won’t even require a golden parachute!  Your saavy leadership will be the talk of the Board, and there will be nary a wink or whimper from me.  Better to have loved and lost…

    Here’s the bottom line.  I need a job and you need a stooge.  We need each other.  The economy is going nowhere fast and you never know when the ground will fall out from underneath you.  When it does you have a choice. Boy genius with the MBA and career-ending zeal for “transparency,” or a sound, dependable man without particular scruples?

    I think the answer is simple:

    A whole town, Detective?