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The Oracle of a Paul O…

I love that title…  Here’s a little bit of the buzz surrounding Sunday’s final.

Paul the Octopus has predicted Spain to beat the Dutch in Sunday’s final.  The mollusk medium has a 100% record in picking champions.  Of course, PETA thinks the whole thing is cruel and a gimmick, and that Paul should be released.  But according to Wikipedia, octopi are very intelligent… and if he wanted to get out, he bloody well could!

David Beckham has also predicted Spain to win….but unlike Paul the Octopus, Becks is not allowed out of his tank.  For the record, Becks had to pick Spain. The last time he went Dutch, he got in a world of hurt.

Still with the strange animals theme, there’s a parakeet in Singapore who’s “pecking” the Netherlands to win. Bird brain or brilliance? We’ll see Sunday.

All this animal business is crackers, of course.  Here in Canada, we let the bison roam freely and hope for the best, which is why no one is picking us, unless they’re tired of picking their nose and looking to make a joke.

The Lazarus of German football, Miroslav Klose, is doubtful for tomorrow’s consolation game against Uruguay. That would be too bad for Klose.  This is likely his last World Cup, and he needs just two goals to pass Brazil’s Ronaldo as the all-time leading World Cup scorer.  His four goals this tournament puts him past the legendary Pele and Gerd Muller.

It’s winter in South Africa, which means it’s flu season.  The bug has apparently hit the German camp, as well as Michel Platini. The UEFA chief was taken to hospital after collapsing at a Johannesburg restaurant. Officials say Platini was suffering from “flu-like” symptoms. They are likely the same symptoms I have when I show up for work on Friday mornings wearing sunglasses, smelling like a Belgian’s basement.  I bet Platini thinks he’s been poisoned by the English…

Paris Hilton is on safari in South Africa… despite her catch-and-release for marijuana possession. The hotel heiress was on Twitter after the trip, proving her crack qualifications as a zoologist and spelling bee champion.

If you happen to live in multi-multi-cultural Toronto, there are two big final parties happening. School Bakery at King and Dufferin is expecting 3000 Oranje fans, while Plaza Flamingo at College and Bathurst is expecting a thousand La Roja fans.  Hmmm… tall gorgeous Dutch girls, or sexy Spanish women… tough call, t0ugh call.

One final note: FIFA officials are hoping that Nelson Mandela will be well enough to present the winners with the World Cup. Mandela had an awful start to the tournament after his great-granddaughter died in a car crash on the opening day. Having the 91-year-old icon of human rights would be a memorable and classy way to end the tournament.

Brent Lanthier

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Oranje bowl over Brazilians, while Black Star misses mos’ def(initely)

Wesley Sneijder - Holland v Brazil: Wesley Sneijder the hero in 'fantastic' performance

What a cracking day to sit on the couch and do nothing except watch footie.

World Cup favourites Brazil lost to the Netherlands… and I’ve desperately tried to write in a Dutch oven joke.  No luck, feel free to write in your answer below.

This game was the Felipe Melo show. First he set up Robinho’s goal to send the Samba Kings flying. But in the second half, he collided with his own goalkeeper and headed in a Wesley Sneijder cross. The goal tied the game and rattled Brazil. Then, Melo’s frustration with uber-pest Arjen Robben boils over. He kicks Robben to the ground and then inexplicably stomps on the Dutchman’s thigh.  Red card and it was “Boa noite” for the Brazilians.

Here are some interesting facts from the game:

  • For the first time in its World Cup history, Brazil loses after leading at halftime (now 35-1-2) and loses for only the third time after scoring first (now 53-3-4). The other two losses were the 1998 group stage versus Norway and the 1950 final versus Uruguay,
  • Melo’s own goal was Brazil’s first in its 97-match World Cup history. It’s just the second own goal in a knockout-stage match in the last 40 years,
  • Sneijder, who is 5-foot-7, became the shortest player to head a goal in at this year’s World Cup,
  • Brazil loses under Dunga for the first time when both Kaka and Robinho play (now 30-1-4),
  • Melo’s red card was 11th ever for Brazil, putting them one ahead of Argentina for most in WC history.

I think’s it’s off the mark to call this result an upset. Netherlands have not lost a competitive match since the Russians beat them in extra time in a Euro 2008 quarterfinal. That’s a streak of 13 matches.  And they are on a run of 24 games without a defeat, since a friendly loss to Australia two years ago.

Image: Uruguay v Ghana: 2010 FIFA World Cup - Quarter Finals

Meanwhile, Africa’s dream of a home-grown World Cup winner died after Ghana lost to Uruguay with a bizarre finish. Just before the end of extra-time, Uruguay’s goalkeeper was caught out of position during a goal-mouth scramble. Luis Suarez kicks the ball away, only for Dominic Adiyiah to head the ball back towards the net… where Suarez raises his arms to deflect the shot.  Red card for Suarez and a penalty for Ghana.

But then Asamoah Gyan sends the jabulani sailing into the crossbar… and sends the Ghanians home in tears, after Uruguay win a penalty shoot-out.

Now the Uruguayans have to manage the high-flying Dutchmen (ho ho!) without the rambunctious Suarez, who is definitely suspended for the semi-final. They’ll also have to do without Paris Hilton, who was arrested for allegedly passing the Dutchie on the left-hand side.

The build-up to tomorrow’s game between the Argies and Ze Germans has been downright nasty. Somewhere, there are a bunch of old RAF commanders giggling into their Pimm’s…

Late game: Spain plays Paraguay.

Brent Lanthier

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Oranje book date with Samba Stars

Kaka celebrates with Luis Fabiano

Kaka celebrates Brazil’s second with Luis Fabiano

They gave it a brave try for the opening half hour, but Chile eventually proved no match for the magic and might of Brazil, who scored twice within a three minute span in the first half and added a gorgeous third after the interval to crush the hopes of their continental cousins in a 3-0 victory that sent the Selecao into the quarter finals.

Chile were aggressive and daring, and deserve plaudits for the way their young team performed at this tournament. Still, keeping the world’s top-ranked team off the scoresheet was always going to be a struggle, and it didn’t help La Roja that they were without the defensive duo of Gary Medel and Waldo Ponce, both suspended for yellow cards. Midfielder Marco Estrada, sent off for a tame challenge on Spain’s Fernando Torres in the final group stage game, was also reduced to spectator for this one, but even a full-strength Chile would have been fortunate to unseat the five-time champions, who look a good bet for a sixth crown on July 11.

Arjen Robben

Arjen Robben fires home the opener for the Oranje

To get there, however, Brazil will have to knock off the Netherlands, who extended their unbeaten run to 23 matches and have won eight straight overall after a 2-1 victory over a Slovakian side that was a shadow of the team that knocked Italy out of the tournament last week. Arjen Robben, making his first start of this World Cup, slotted the opening goal inside the post early in the first half, while Slovakia didn’t manage a single shot on net for the first 62 minutes of the match. Two glorious chances soon after both went begging, with Maarten Stekelenburg bailing out the Oranje with some fine saves before Dirk Kuyt gifted Wesley Sneijder for Holland’s decisive second, and only a (rather dubious) final-kick penalty putting Slovakia on the board.

The Dutch have yet to concede a goal from open play at this tournament, while Brazil has allowed just two, and neither team has trailed at any point so far. Something’s got to give when this pair of heavyweights clash in Port Elizabeth on Friday. The Netherlands haven’t faced anyone with the quality and depth of Brazil so far, and will have to raise its game to match the South Americans. If they can, this one could be a classic.

Ian Harrison

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Dr. Z’s World Cup Predictions: Group E

Dentist by day, football prognosticator by night, our own Dr. Hadi Zogheib is scouting out each group at World Cup 2010 and predicting first round scores and standings. Here’s what the good doctor expects in Group E:

Netherlands:  With all the talk about Spain, Brazil, Argentina, and England, it seems the Dutch have been overlooked.  As I wrote a few weeks ago, injuries were threatening to derail their tournament aspirations, but most of the players have recovered in time for the big show.  Goalkeeping and defence are a little questionable, but with Dirk Kuyt, Robin Van Persie, Rafael Van der Vaart, and the sensational Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben, anything less than a semifinal showing will be considered a big disappointment.

Japan:  Perennial Asian powerhouse Japan will feel a little better going into the competition having played England very tough in a 2-1 loss.  Speedy and crafty, the Japanese must tighten up in defence if they hope to progress out of the group stage.  They’ll need some magic from former Celtic midfielder and free kick wizard Shunsuke Nakamura along the way.  The Japanese may also be bolstered by the fact that they have a stellar record in recent years against African countries, going 5-0-1 since 2007.

Cameroon:  And the award for tightest uniforms go to… but I digress.  The West Africans will be hoping to repeat the success of Italia ’90, and much of the pressure will fall on the captain’s shoulders.  Former great Roger Milla stirred up a little controversy recently, criticizing Samuel Eto’o for playing great for club but not country.  Perhaps he was looking to light a fire under the Inter superstar: time will tell if it worked. As a big fan of la Liga, I must also mention the play of Espanyol goalkeeper Kameni, who perhaps single handedly helped his club avoid relegation with his sensational play this season.

Denmark:  The most underrated team in the World Cup, the Danes beat out Hungary, Sweden, and mighty Portugal to win their qualification group.  Meticulously organized and solid (though not spectacular) at every position, this may be the team to pick as the darkhorse to go deep in the tournament.  That is, if the maddeningly inconsistent Nicolas Bendtner decides to play consistently for a change.

Predicted Results:

Netherlands 2-1 Denmark

Cameroon 2-0 Japan

Netherlands 3-1 Japan

Cameroon 1-1 Denmark

Denmark 2-0 Japan

Cameroon 0-2 Netherlands

Group Standings:

Netherlands  9 pts

Denmark 4 pts

Cameroon 4 pts

Japan 0 pts

Related: Dr. Z doubts the host’s chances in Group A, expects Greece’s defence-first philsophy will pay off in Group B, predicts an opening-round sweep for England in Group C, and expects a three-way dogfight in Group D.

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Race against time for Dutch

Hadi Zogheib

Take a quick glance at the World Cup qualification tables from the European zone and the record of the Netherlands in Group 9 immediately jumps out. Eight wins, no losses, not even a draw. Seventeen goals for and only two against. Not too shabby, eh? With just weeks to go before kickoff in South Africa, it’s easy to see why the Dutch have powered up to number four in the world rankings, behind only European champions Spain, five-time world champions Brazil and, curiously, Portugal. 

But not everything is looking rosy for the Oranje, especially if you look at the struggles of their wonderful attacking talent. In recent months, many of the players Holland will rely on to lift the trophy in Johannesburg have been struggling for form, fitness or both. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has barely seen first team action for AC Milan. Dirk Kuyt has had a season to forget with Liverpool. Robin Van Persie has only just recovered from a horrific injury in a friendly versus Italy and will be short of match fitness come June. And Rafael Van der Vaart just damaged his left thigh muscle in Real Madrid’s match at Zaragoza on Saturday.

Adding to Holland’s woes, midfielder Wesley Sneijder looked anything but match fit in this week’s Champions League semi-final battle with Barcelona, having to be substituted early in the second half after a largely ineffective performance in the first 45 minutes.

The only good news for the Dutch is that time is on their side. All the above players still have time to heal and improve their fitness before the World Cup commences. In the meantime, Dutch football fans are holding their breath and hoping for the best.

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