At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Match of the Day: Will the Lions Roar?

Well, who saw that happening yesterday? 

Can you imagine putting $1000 down with the odds of Spain not only losing, but ending with a minus-4 goal differential? You'd be rolling in it. As in you-could-retire-now rolling in it.

Now we turn from the sudden ascendancy of the Dutch (or the plummeting collapse of Spain), to today's Match of the Day. With four to choose from, there's much on the soccer smorgasbord.

There's Uruguay and Luis Suarez taking on Costa Rica, or you could take in the Colombia-Greece matchup to see if Hellas can give the crowds in Athens some relief from the economic hard times afflicting the cradle of democracy. Then again, the Ivory Coast-Japan clash affords people a chance to watch 2012 UEFA Champions League hero Didier Drogba in what could be his final World Cup (not to mention a grudge match for a Japan-inflicted fractured ulna from 2010). All good matches.

But none will be today's Match of the Day. That is reserved for the Three Lions vs. Gli Azzurri. England vs. Italy. At 5 pm ET today.

You can't get much closer on the stat sheet than this international rivalry. Italy has won nine, England eight, with seven draws coming into this, the 25th matchup all time. You can bet that England wants to take some of the sting out of their penalty shootout loss to the Azzurri in the 2012 UEFA Euro Cup quarterfinal in Kiev.

In truth, England's chances ride on how well midfielders Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard get chances through to strikers Daniel Sturridge, Wayne Rooney, and Danny Welback (I have to admit it's nice to watch the interplay of Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United stars working together for once). Rooney's role is key. He usually doesn't have a dry goal account, but he hasn't exactly set the world on fire in his two World Cups in Germany and South Africa.

Italy's forte is cumulative team effort, as Marco Balotelli is talented but can't and won't carry the team on his back over seven games to a title. Gianlugi Buffon is not only an outstanding goalie but strikes the proper blend of calming and motivation one needs in a captain. The tipping point might well be how 21-year old youngsters like midfielder Marco Verratti and defender Mattia DeSciglio fit in and make contributions.

And then there are the intangibles, the greatest of which might be the weather. This game is being played in Manaus, where the scorching temperatures and brutal humidity will make the players feel it's hotter there than two obese rats making out in a wool sock. Combating the dehydration factor and bludgeoning the loss of mineral salts might be what leads to victory.

Final guess? Too close to call. We might have our first tie of the World Cup this year. I'll call it, 1-1.

More tomorrow, and thanks for checking in!

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