Playing Favorites

Well? Would you?

I'm gonna think about it and answer in John's conversation. But Uruguay-Ghana was basically the soccer equivalent of Satan tempting Jesus in the desert. Sure, Suarez made the King Herod choice...but there's a reason they're called temptations.

Brazil goes from prohibitive favorite from now until 2018, into a big steaming pile of Domenech, and that's not even the most interesting game of the day.

Whatever you think about Uruguay, and you probably have many opinions about them right now, let's not forget to list goalkeeper Fernando Muslera alongside Suarez and Abreu when we say "quelle testicles!"

I mean, look at this kid. He just turned 23. His first international was last October. And the guy was doing everything but mooning the poor Ghanaian penalty takers. He would stand there, arms folded, save the kick, then point at them and laugh.

Yes, I know the English, Italian, and Spanish languages all have many colorful descriptions for the sort of person who does that. But I think I may have a new all-time favorite goalkeeper.

And he'd probably say, "Shut up, Yankee blogger, I don't need your praise, I'm young and awesome."

And I'd probably say, "Yes. Yes, you are."

It would be even better if he was one of those guys who was shy and humble off the field, and turn into a complete snipe (anagram) in games...but I think this guy simply lives his gimmick. Maybe you now hate Uruguay so much, you're looking up things besides Forlan and Eduardo Galeano so you'll have more things to hate about Uruguay. But I, for one, will be watching Mr. Muslera's career with great interest.

The other thing that is worth considering is how Ghana feels right now...or rather, how history will treat them.

Let's go back to the "Did you go out like a bitch?" scale. For those of you who have just joined us, 1 is Slim Pickens as Major Kong riding the nuke in "Dr. Strangelove," and 100 is John Turturro as Bernie Birnbaum in "Miller's Crossing." So far this World Cup, England rated an 85 (Boba Fett in "Jedi," as detailed in the "Robot Chicken" sketch). Italy clocked in at 89 (Marvin in "Pulp Fiction"). France set a the modern record with a solid 98 (Martin Ferrero in "Jurassic Park").

At first blush, Ghana doesn't rate much better than a 20 (Joe Morton in "Terminator 2") - Asamoah Gyan has only himself to blame for missing the penalty. And Ghana started Samuel Inkoom, so we American fans can be forgiven for indulging a remarks along the lines of going around and coming around.

(Apropos of nothing, talk about a no-win situation in the shootout - if he had missed, he'd have been the Choking Pig Squared; since he made it, everyone was "where was that two minutes ago?" But I think that was Rajevac being Machiavellian. Gyan HAD to shoot first, because PK takers don't grow on trees, and if he had been given any time to think about it, or had to take a must-make attempt, the pressure would have crushed him. Missing the first kick would have theoretically been survivable, missing the third or fourth, not so much.)

But, Ghana lost in an iconic way. Uruguay not only cheated, they got away with it, and there's literally nothing anyone can do about it. This wasn't a referee mistake. There's no solution for this. Gyan blew the kick, but that's understandable, because there can't be more than a few thousand people alive who have lived through that kind of pressure.

Whenever people talk about painful World Cup losses, Ghana will be there, among the tragic immortals. My list is Hungary 1954, West Germany 1966 (well, except, it took until 2010 for anyone to really have any sympathy for Germany), Holland 1978 (most of the teams in 1978, actually), Algeria 1982, France 1982, and now Ghana 2010. Ghana's probably in the top two or three. Remember, they beat Uruguay. That ball was going in. It would have been one of the most incredible finishes in World Cup history even if Suarez hadn't gone Gabrielle Reece.

I made a joke after two games about calling this the worst World Cup ever - well, this may be the most amazingly heart-wrenching, and there are still five big-ass games left.

Ghana's national team program can go a couple of ways with this. They can decide that the ends justify the means, and turn the dark side in a way that would make Argentina blanch, or they can devote themselves to a level of sportsmanship unseen since the Corinthians were touring.

The sport badly needs heroes at this point - Holland and Brazil, the sport's aesthetic darlings, treated the planet to a glorified bar fight. The world is so ready for a team that publicly says "No diving, no cheating," and lives up to it, damn the consequences.

I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for Ghana, or any other team in the world, to do this. The rewards for winning are simply too great.

God, what a couple of games. I suppose I could make a joke about a group of Dutch extraction crushing the hopes of the majority through violence against multi-racial opposition being totally unheard of in South African history. But Nigel De Jong ruins that joke, like he does everything else. I'm so glad he'll miss the semifinal. I'm so sad he'll be eligible for the final.

Brazil...yeah, I don't get them. Just when I was about to accept that having the best team win wasn't necessarily a bad thing, and we shouldn't celebrate underdogs simply because they're not favored. Soccer underdogs, unlike scrappy little Cinderellas in other sports, tend to be pretty unwatchable. It's the favorites that have all the skill.

Sure, I was tired of knee-jerk Brazil jocking from people who think Robinho robs from the rich and gives to the poor, but Brazil really does have millions of sincere fans. Sure, since they'll be prohibitive favorites in 2014, we would have lived a significant chunk of our lives under Brazilian domination, and one much less delightful than the 1958-1974 dynasty. But that wasn't worth, say, an Italian repeat. Yeah, Kaka is annoying, but at least he's not yet another Ronaldo. I was prepared to accept the inevitable.

I probably should have expected a meltdown, since, well, that's what happened four years ago, when Team Zizou gave another series of media-friendly paper favorites the right-about. But Holland had a meltdown much more recently, against a much worse Russia team, and frankly look capable of folding against Uruguay.

God, what a knife-fight that's going to be. Yeah, Holland should be heavily favored, but you know Uruguay is going to lose just as ugly as they can win.

And if Holland wins, the spirit of the great 1970's teams will be alongside, arm in arm...and the sporting world will say, as one fan, "Cruyff couldn't win the World Cup, but these thugs could? Jesus wept."

That's your 2010 World Cup. Cinderella is just another ugly stepsister - just dirtier.