Off the ball: World Cup blues
In his irreverent World Cup column Off the Ball, Andy Goldberg looks at the lighter side of the football championship.
Ten days after the start of the World Cup and the normally packed fan zones around the country are near empty. What's happening? It's the dreaded World Cup blues.
Even many Brazil fans succumbed to the torpor and though there were isolated groups of drummers and dancers trying to raise the spirits in Berlin's fan mile, most fans just seemed to be strolling about calmly, as though they were enjoying a little fresh air in the local park.
By the time the France-South Korea game rolled around it was as though everyone had taken a dose or five of valium. Most people sat around on benches, or sprawled out on the ground and watched the game with barely a glimmer of interest.
Part of the reason was that the games themselves were pretty boring - viewers of the France-South Korea game now know why the team is nicknamed Les Blues. But the main reason is due to a structural fault in the World Cup that always condemns the second round of matches to a high rating on the boredom meter.
It works like this: The round of opening matches sends people into football frenzy as they finally see the teams play after months of pre-tournament anticipation. The temporary insanity lasts about a week - in which all other activities take second place to the overriding priority of watching three games a day.
But then the second round of games are a huge anti-climax. Many viewers find their football appetites satiated - others realise that in most cases nothing is actually decided in these games.
But fear not. Those of you who are suffering from soccer ennui will soon be healed. This is just a temporary lull ordered by the all-knowing footballing gods to enable us to refresh ourselves, and relate to our families, jobs and other trivia for one final time before we lose ourselves utterly in all-encompassing football fever.
The final group matches are just around the corner and will see the return of drama, conflict and sudden death. Then we're off to the knockout stages where we will bid adieu to the real world until the final whistle blows on the final game of the tournament.
Deutschland's robots take the prize
German robots have already won the World Cup and I'm not talking about the men's national team.
RoboCup 2006 pitted 440 teams of autonomous machines from 36 countries against each other in the northern German city of Bremen in a dazzling display of speed, precision and ruthless finishing. Actually the robots were so slow, inept and unimaginative they even made the Ukraine team look good.
Some were adapted from the popular robotic toy dogs, other were the size of overweight teenagers and seemingly just as churlish, while others looked like boxes on wheels with scoops attached to the front.
But the motley collection of automatons may well have the last laugh. Researchers see football as a useful test for robot intelligence because of the need to combine movement, strategy, vision and improvisation. And organizers believe that by 2050, the winners of the RoboCup will be able to beat the human World Cup champions.
"I think it's realistic," said Ubbo Visser, a lecturer at the International University of Bremen's technology centre, "if you consider that there was not much more time between the Wright Brothers' first flight and the landing on the moon."
Herr Visser obviously understands something about robots - but perhaps his understanding of football is a little too scientific.
It's not like chess, brain surgery or rocket science. That may well be left to robots, scientists and other brilliant individuals. Football takes a different kind of intelligence - and its hard to see how robots will ever match the famous football intellects of a Maradona, Pele, or the gifted English midfielder Paul Gascoigne, once famously described by his manager as being "daft as a brush".
McDonalds ban hits police
An interesting story in a Berlin paper claimed that after police were banned from displaying German flags they have now also been barred from eating at McDonalds.
I thought that maybe officials were worried about the health threat to Germany's finest posed by the calorie laden "almost-food", as the paper called it. But I should have known better in a country where smoking is still permitted almost everywhere and it's hard to find a snack that doesn't consist of a charred roll of meat in a dry piece of bread.
Luckily police are actually still permitted under the Golden Arches but they are just not allowed to use a voucher given by the World Cup sponsor for a free Coke or coffee because police are not allowed to accept gifts.
That has a much more Germanic sense of rectitude.
Miss of the tournament
Sorry, this item is not about a beauty contest of scantily clad football-mad beauties, but I promise to try harder next time. It's about the amazing miss by Japanese striker Atsushi Yamagisawa who with an open goal at his mercy during the stultifying 0-0 draw with Croatia somehow managed to miss the goal completely while putting the ball through the legs of the goalkeeper who happened to be stranded at least 5 metres to the left-hand side of his goal.
Japan coach Zico, the former Brazil great who scored 52 goals in 72 matches, tried to explain the miss and the generally toothless performance of his team, by blaming the fact that both Japan's games took place in the heat of the afternoon, and that his players were tense.
Japanese journalists however blamed the losses on Zico's "buffoonery" and tactical naivete, but it certainly seems he can take some lessons from veteran Italian manager Marcello Lippi on thinking up excuses.
After his sides abysmal failure to polish off a nine-man US team Lippi exhibited an excuse in perfect synch with the natural Italian nonchalance.
"All the praise that the team received for their performance against Ghana might have caused some kind of easing off from the players," said Lippi. "It's part of our DNA to follow a great game with one that's not so great."
19 June 2006
DPA with Expatica
Subject: World Cup 2006, German news