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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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Maradona’s men meet their match

There were long faces and dark mutterings around the family home of my Futbol Guapa after her Albicelestes met another early exit from the World Cup Saturday, thrashed 4-0 by Germany’s young stars in the day’s first quarterfinal match, a victory that moves Die Mannschaft one step Klose (get it?) to the finals. Even the choripan didn’t taste quite as good afterward, tinged with the disappointment of a title drought that will now last another four years.

Much of the blame will be laid at the feet of the last man to lift a World Cup trophy in Argentinian colours. Diego Maradona, a firebrand striker in 1986 and now a portly coach, at least saved us all the decidedly unwelcome prospect of watching him run (waddle?) naked through the streets of Buenos Aires, which he’d promised to do if his team had won in South Africa. He may have inspired a similar pledge from Larissa Riquelme, which I salute, but Diego’s team selection and tactics were highly suspect. How handy would it have been for Argentina to have Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso to call into Maradona’s attack-minded lineup against Germany, helping to prop up a lonely Javier Mascherano in front of the back four, or replacing the highly suspect Nicolas Otamendi, whose foul led to Thomas Muller’s opening goal after just three minutes. So much for God’s will.

Having said that, these Germans are clearly a force to be reckoned with. The highest-scoring team at the tournament so far, they’ve recorded a trio of four-goal games. Muller, who’ll miss the semifinal through suspension, and fellow midfielders Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira have turned the loss of Michael Ballack into more blessing than curse, while Miroslav Klose’s two goals against Argentina give him 14 in his World Cup career, one more than Pele, tied with German legend Gerd Muller and just one behind Ronaldo for the most ever. Clearly, coach Joachim Loew knows Germany is the pick of the crop.

Of course, to reach the final, the Germans still have to get past Spain, who withstood a strong and resolute Paraguay, with David Villa’s late goal proving decisive in a 1-0 final that denied us all to see a little bit more of the aforementioned Ms. Riquelme.

It wasn’t easy for Spain, up against a team who, as our Dr. Z has pointed out, knocked off Argentina, Brazil and Chile during CONMEBOL qualifying and were clearly not overawed by the prospect of facing the reigning European champions. Paraguay will probably feel a bit hard done by that they were denied the opening goal after Nelson Valdez scored shortly before half, only to have the strike disallowed because teammate Oscar Cardozo had been offside, and leapt for the ball as it came into the area.

The second half saw a bizarre sequence of penalties, with Gerard Pique using both hands to haul Cardozo to the ground, but Casillas saving and holding the shot. Seconds later, Villa was bundled over at the other end, but Xabi Alonso’s strike was ruled out because Spanish players had encroached into the penalty area. Replays later showed the same was true of Cardozo’s missed penalty, something that apparently eluded referee Carlos Batres of Guatemala. Alsono tried again, but Justo Villar made the stop, then escaped further discipline for crashing into Cesc Fabregas as he went after the rebound.

All that wackiness set the stage for an 83rd minute goal as wild as any at this tournament. Andres Iniesta left two Paraguayans in his wake with a driving run up the middle, laying the ball off for Pedro, whose shot rebounded off the post to Villa. The Golden Boot candidate also hit the post but got a more fortunate bounce, and the South Americans were sunk. Sure, Casillas was called on again to deny Roque Santa Cruz in the final minute, but Spain were otherwise comfortable in possession with the lead.

So, at a World Cup where we were once marveling at South American success and scratching our heads over European ineptitude, Uruguay is the last South American team standing as we head to the semis, with three European sides, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain, still going strong. You’d have to favour the Dutch against Uruguay in Tuesday’s first semifinal, while the Spain-Germany clash on Wednesday looks like a can’t-miss classic.

Ian Harrison

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Swiss bliss is Spain’s pain as hosts look like toast

Spanish fans in Madrid can’t believe the score against Switzerland.

The upset of the tournament so far, and one of the biggest upsets in decades, has turned Group H into a dogfight for reigning European champions Spain, who went down to Switzerland 1-0. The deciding score came early in the second half, a scrappy goal by Gelson Fernandes, who bundled the ball in after a collision between Spanish keeper Iker Casillas and Swiss forward Eren Derdiyok. Spain’s Xabi Alonso hit the bar late on, but the Swiss held on for a famous win, and will vie with Chile (who broke a 48-year winless streak at the World Cup by beating Honduras 1-0) for control of the group, while Spain will have its work cut out to avoid second place and a possible match-up with Brazil in the round of 16.

The late game saw the hosts lose keeper Itumeleng Khune to a somewhat dubious red card while Diego Forlan scored twice, including once from the spot after Khune was dismissed, in a 3-0 victory for Uruguay, which was hardly the way anyone in South Africa wanted to mark the 34th anniversary of the Soweto student uprising, and did little to make anyone feel better about the disturbing news of strikes by poorly-paid security guards and protest marches against the FIFA fatcats, who won’t even let a bunch of women in orange miniskirts get their party on. It’s no surprise, but a bit of a shame, that Bafana Bafana are likely to bow out after their final Group A game against France, making them the first host team ever not to reach the knockout round.

It seems the World Cup may also be over for Italian netminder Gianluigi Buffon, whose back is a bit wonky. Maybe the long flight down didn’t do him any favours. At least he probably travelled in more style than CBS correspondent Steve Nash. As for our correspondent, the Happy Hoofer was posing for pictures in Abu Dhabi this morning, killing time while waiting for a connecting flight (he’s the one on the right).

While Portugal were busy trying to get Cristiano Ronaldo’s yellow card rescinded, there was more fun elsewhere. With his team set to face the Red Devils of South Korea tomorrow, Argentina boss Diego Maradona was made available to a hungry pack of media wolves today, and didn’t disappoint, firing off shots at Pele and Michel Platini (damn French and their lack of social skills), revealing that Juan Sebastian Veron would not start because of a calf injury, and producing several other Maradona musings. Can’t wait to see his antics on the touchline tomorrow, and what suit his daughters dress him in.

Ian Harrison

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