Saturday, February 27, 2010

International Week!

This week is the first FIFA international fixture date of 2010, meaning all the club teams will take a break so the best players in the world can train with their home country. It's also basically the beginning of the final preparations for all the teams participating in this summer's World Cup. Normally we'd see the top teams playing some easy tuneups, but this week there is an unexpectedly high count of marquee matchups. Here are five of them:

home teams listed first, all times eastern

TUESDAY


Ireland vs Brazil, 3:05pm: This is very intriguing. Brazil is currently #2 in the world and has been practically unbeatable since its defeat in the quarterfinals of 2006. Ireland though, was the darling of the European section of qualifying. It went undefeated in ten group games, including two draws with Italy, then nearly defeated mighty France in a playoff. While not being a true European power, this is still a good test for Brazil to see how well it can break down a disciplined team.

WEDNESDAY

Switzerland vs Uruguay, 2:15pm: Not the biggest names from either continent but any South America vs Europe battle is interesting to see. Who will win out between the attacking flare and the disciplined tactical battle?

Germany vs Argentina, 2:45pm, GolTV: Now here is a South America-Europe battle with the big stars. Not only that but it's a rematch of the thrilling 2006 World Cup quarterfinal, in which Ze Germans advanced by a shootout. Argentina had a rough qualifying campaign though and is in a state of flux. If Diego Maradona's side struggled to break down mid-level South American teams, how will they do when they face probably the most tactically disciplined team in the world?

Netherlands vs United States, 2:45pm, ESPN2: This is an enormous test for the United States. Unfortunately for them, they are still without three of their first choice players due to injury, not to mention they are still in the process of figuring out who should be some of the first choice players. Still though, the USA has shown to step it up a bit when facing top teams and the players will surely want to impress. As for the Dutch, I'm not quite sure why they accepted this game, as none of their group stage opponents are from North or South America. I suppose it's still a good test since the USA has consistently been in the top-20 of the FIFA rankings, and will punish you (maybe) if you under-perform. I hope to have a USA-themed recap of this game after it's complete.

France vs Spain, 3:00pm: Wow, what a matchup. They met in the 2006 World Cup round of 16, and France prevailed 3-1. Different story now though. France just barely made it into the tournament (controversially) and Spain has a European title under their belt and are ranked #1 in the world. We'll see if Les Bleus have made any improvements since their underwhelming qualifying campaign.

There's a whole host of other games, including
  • The first look at England post John Terry-Wayne Bridge soap opera. They host Egypt
  • USA's other two group stage opponents for the World Cup, Algeria and Slovenia, take on Serbia and Qatar respectively
  • North American rival Mexico plays New Zealand at the Rose Bowl
  • World Cup title holder Italy plays Cameroon
Stay tuned to the scoreboards and read some match reports. It should be a great slate of matches.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Charles Barkley was the Highlight of All-Star Saturday

Let me start off by apologizing for the lack of content around these parts lately. As most of you know, I now have an actual writing gig, covering the UF gymnastics beat for The Independent Florida Alligator, so that's kept me pretty busy lately. I'm also working on another blog that's strictly college basketball -- Beadlemaniacs -- for those who don't already know, so you can find my musings over there, too. But rest assured, 4th and Fail is still alive and kicking.

So, this weekend was NBA All-Star weekend, and the Saturday portion of the event was rather lackluster, namely, the dunk contest, which is supposed to be the marquee event of the day. I'm not going to tell you what can be done to fix the dunk contest, because that's what everyone else is writing. Instead, I will present you with the real highlights from All-Star Saturday night: Charles Barkley.

I don't want to say Charles Barkley was under the influence of anything, but there was something that made his commentary even more exquisite and on-point than usual. As the folk on Twitter put it: Chuck was killing it, Saturday night. You can find a sampling of his best from the weekend here, but I'll toss you some of my favorites; you can thank me later:

  • "You ever notice Gatorade don't work for players who suck."
  • "You wanna take Ernie (Johnson)'s job? All you gotta do is cut your forehead back 7-8 inches."
  • "It'd be impressive if he was taller than one of them," - on Nate Robinson bringing the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders out on the court before one of his dunks.
  • And of course: "Maybe no one will win it." - before Cheryl Miller announced the winner of the contest.
Among the other topics the future governor of Alabama took a shot at: the Heat's Daequan Cook, Spike Lee for wearing Knicks gear, the Cubs (saying all Cubs gear should be burned), Paul Pierce's merits as a shooter and of course, Kenny "The Jet" Smith's hairdo. And for the record, the Cook and Cubs comments were back-to-back. Oh, and he called Kings' rookie Omri Casspi (who competed in the H-O-R-S-E competition) "Omar." Never change, Chuck. Never change.

So there you have your highlights from All-Star Saturday, and further reason that Charles Barkley should be given his own late night talk show, uncensored, for an hour -- minimum -- each night.