Tuesday, June 10, 2014

WM 2014--Round One

Vamos Syndicate members,


And we’re off. The flags are hanging out of nearly every window here in the Vaterland. The cars are bedecked with color. The girls are all made up and “geil”. The beer flows like wine, which also flows in abundance around here. Oliver Kahn has filmed all of his shitty commercials. Lothar Matthäus has recruited a new trophy wife and divorced here already. Michael Ballack has been practicing his dumbstruck caveman look in the mirror. Franz Beckenbauer has been busy coming up with phallic descriptions of attack formations. Oliver Bierhof has swept up the lock room floor.


WE ARE READY….Are you?

Not until your friendly bookie sets the lines you’re not. ; ) Every two-bit hack writer has now had a chance to way in with their previews and prognostications. Seriously, who do these amateurish armchair commentators think they are? Wasting everyone’s time with marginally coherent erudite “Preview Sections”. ; ) Bloody sad lot they are. I pity those belonging to their ilk.

Now comes the really fun part. In over twelve years of writing the Syndicate (and approximately 16 of keeping a Book), I never grow tired of setting lines. It’s not just the joy of figuring out arithmetically hedged odds. I penetrate my member’s skulls. I pierce through your exterior façade to exploit all your biases, weaknesses, and prejudices. I…..am……THE HYPNOTOAD!!
All in good fun of course. Plenty of you know how to play me even better than a play you, and at the end of the day any of the chump change I take from the successes remains immaterial. We all had a great deal of fun…and you get your money back in the form of a “Schwag Pack” anyway.

Let’s rock some lines! What this? Oh. Gentlemen, we have a very special guest with us. Here to help your friendly bookie present the lines, it’s Brazilian soul-funk fusion legend Wilson Simonal! Everyone please give it up for Wilson! He’ll be accompanying me throughout this section with such soulful hits as “Nem Vae Que Nao Tem”, “Sa Marina”, and “So Voce Gostou”. Hell yes. I may be a rigid Kraut, but I can still get in the spirit.
Wilson Simonal.jpg 
I first encountered Wilson (like every other hapless ignorant Northerner) on the “City of God Soundtrack”. The soundtrack of the still incontrovertibly GREATEST MOVIE EVER MADE played along in the background all throughout your bookie’s work on the 2013 Confederations Cup. After splurging on some additional works by the featured artists, we’re now rearin’ and READY TO GO!


 Reviewing the rules set some nine posts ago:

Here’s your example:

Deutschland vs. Italy 


The Line: Deutschland +3 Goals

The Favorite (Germany) is favored to win by 3 goals. If you bet on Italy, there are three ways you can win the bet:

1) Italy loses by less than 3 goals.

2) Match is a draw

3) Italy wins

Conversely, there is only one way to win if you bet on Germany

1) Germany wins by more than 3 goals

Should Germany win by precisely 3 goals, THE BET IS A WASH. THE BET IS A TIE. NO ONE OWES ANYONE ANYTHING


1) Your Bookie takes bets on a FIRST COME, FIRST SERVE BASIS. Your bookie reserves the right to refuse picks if either the line has moved or too much money has already come in one side. Get your wagers in early. If you snooze you lose. Or, as the Germans put it, “Ein Nickerchen bedeutet kein Fickerchen”

2) Speaking of conflict of interest, THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO WAY IN HELL YOU'LL GET ME TO BET AGAINST GERMANY!! Don't even try. This would be analogous to a black man casting a vote for David Duke.

3) Payouts come at the end of the tournament. ALL BETTORS ALSO GET A SCHWAG PACK! Trust your bookie, if only because he can't risk having the lid blown off this shadowy operation.

4) Previously I set a deadline of one hour before kickoff for anyone wishing to place a bet. This year I’m altering matters. TWO HOURS BEFORE KICKOFF, PEOPLE!  I’ve figured out that I can hedge my bets by running down to the local TIPICO. It’s imperative that the Syndicate remains a modestly profitable enterprise for your friendly bookie. This isn’t merely for selfish reasons. I need to be able to afford the Schwag Packs. So it goes.

Alles Klar? All set? Here are your lines:


Brazil vs. Croatia


No, you’re not high. It’s just the FIFA Opening Ceremonies. Okay, if you’re one of my members, you might still conceivably be high. I wouldn’t recommend toking up before the opening ceremonies, however. All that opulent kitsch can turn a simple afternoon bake into something resembling a bad acid trip. Not good times.

After the ostentatious excess, Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff will have a few words to say. The NSA assures me her remarks will be completely innocuous. Following that, FIFA President Sepp Blatter will initiate proceedings by announcing that the 2014 World Cup has officially begun. Many diehard football enthusiasts such as myself will be hoping that he announces the 2022 “Winter!!?!” World Cup in Qatar has been scrapped and that we’ll be returning to Brazil in eight year’s time.


After spitting on the transmitted picture of Blatter just for good measure, it’s time to kick back, relax, and watch Neymar do his thing. During last year’s dress rehearsal it took him all of three minutes to feed off the energy in the crowd and produce a magical moment. We’ll allow the lad a few more minutes this time, what with butterflies and all. I still say he scores within the first quarter of an hour. It’ll be epic.

If you have the misfortune of not swinging by the bar for this one, a fun thing to do is look up the calls of foreign play-by-play announcers on Youtube….before FIFA takes them down. Given that Neymar is sure to supply us with something brilliant early on, I give straight up odds on the Japanese announcer’s head exploding.

The Blazers stand absolutely no chance of countering Brazilian momentum in this fixture. They have no answer for it, not with Mario Mandzukic out on suspension. I trust we won’t see any irresponsible flare lighting from the Croat Hooligans. They’ll be too busy drying their tears (every bit as pungent as their obnoxious odor). Viva Brasilia!

Oh right. And if anyone must truly know my thoughts on the burgeoning Brazilian Protest Movement, it’s all contained in my “Group A Preview” section.

I consider the matter closed. CLOSED I said.

THE LINE: Brazil + 3 Goals

“Have we been here before”?

WM 2006
Believe it or not, we have!! It’s all happened before back in the Glorious Summer of 2006; the summer of “Deutschland: Ein Sommermärchen”; the summer of “Vicey’s Playboy Penthouse”; the summer of “My God I’m seriously lucky I didn’t contract VD”

Back then Ronaldinho was just beginning to struggle with his form and Ronaldo continued to struggle with the appropriate amount of entrees to order. Here’s your report:

From WM 2006—“Round One”


Brazil vs. Croatia


Should be a cakewalk for the Samba Kings. Ooops, I do believe I inadvertently provoked Ronaldo into thinking about more food. Sorry fat boy, no cake for you. See if I can’t cook up another metaphor. No. Out of the kitchen, fat boy. Tangible aromas weren’t wafting from that expression were they? See if I can’t start from scratch here. HEY! What did I just say? I’m trying to write something about your team, not fucking offering to bake you homemade lasagna! GIT!  Goddamn tub of lard. DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT!! I was referring to you. No deep-fry action taking place over here. Leave me the hell alone. Can’t you see I’m trying to work?

Both Lula and I have had our fun with Brazil’s “Bread-and-Butter Ball”. To be fair, he has been packing on the pounds. Coach Parreira freely admits that his fitness level will prevent him from playing more than 70 minutes. Poor Carlos must be frustrated that he returned for this. Ordinarily, each trainer devises his own fitness metrics complete with the autonomy to bench any player who fails to meet his standards. Ronaldo knows he’s untouchable. He also knows that those sandwiches over on the smorgasbord aren’t going to eat themselves. With his career at Real Madrid stalled, he recently came close to signing a contract to play for the New York Red Bulls. From the neck down he would be a perfect fit for one of those American Media B-Roll montages on how the country is dangerously overweight. Enough. Go out there and grab a brace, tubby. Croatian B.O. should repress your appetite long enough to dazzle.  

THE LINE: Brazil +2 Goals

Editor’s retroactive notes:
RESULT: Brazil 1, Croatia 0. I’m surprised Croatian B.O. didn’t induce bulimia. In later years Ronaldo would present a dubious doctor’s diagnosis of hyperthyroidism. Wait a second, I thought that meant that your metabolism functioned at abnormally high levels? Okay..let’s give the poor bloke a break here. Ronaldo was the first aging player since Pelé to be targeted as part of a broader push to get over-the-hill stars to play in America. Four months later the L.A. Galaxy found their man in 32-year-old Real Dud David Beckham. Ljunberg and Henry followed. Wonder who’s next? It might very well be the man with the magic Jesus Cleats; the one who scored in this match. Few can match his sublime skill with distance efforts. Ones like the 50-yard boot he scorched past Pletikosa are what I’ll pay to see.  


Mexico vs. Cameroon


We have our first match madly interesting from a tactical standpoint. How does Herrera’s projected 5-3-2 stack up against Finke’s 4-3-3? One has to have a certain amount of faith in Finke. He’ll choose his back four well, probably relying upon N’Koulou and Chedjou to shut down Chicharito. We still can’t the “Upset Alert Button” just yet as Peralta and dos Santos will likely find a way through.

Expect a defensive struggle marked by underperformances from known names such as Eto’o, Song, Hernandez, and Guardado. The loss of Luis Montes means Hector Herrera will probably get the start on the left wing. Recipe for boring. They can’t all be winners. A winner will still emerge from this match, however. It will bring a great smile to likely attendee Enrique Pena Nieto. Mexico returns to normalcy.

THE LINE: Mexico +1 Goal

“Have we been here before”?

We have not! It’s all new, gentleman!

Spain vs. the Netherlands


Blockbuster, baby. La Roja defend the World Championship and TWO consecutive European Championships. They may be the best team ever…and they have no intention of abdicating their throne…..like….oh fuck it. That joke’s just too obvious.

En route to the hardware associated with their unprecedented six-year-long run of dominance, La Furia have been notoriously slow starters. Del Bosque has already played it safe with his squad selection, leaving Negredo, Soldado, and Llorente at home.

I’ll venture a guess that he plays it safe here too. He may not even start Costa, as much as a mistake as that will be. It would appear that they’re ready for Van Persie. They brought in Deulofeu to mimic him in training camp after all. Either Robben or Sneijder should be able to counter the inevitable goal from either Iniesta or Xavi.

We’ll have goals in this one. What we won’t have is a result.

THE LINE: Pick em’

“Have we been here before”?

WM 2010Oh have we ever. Who could forget the 2010 Final? It wasn’t the most exciting game, but it kept us captivated all the way up to Iniesta’s 116th minute strike. I spent this one watching with good friends. I hope you did too.

From WM 2010—“Goodbyes and Championship Pick”

THE MATCH TO END ALL MATCHES—Supreme Champion of the Football Universe

Netherlands vs. Spain


As is our tradition, we’ll skip the chitchat and call for final wagers. This constitutes your final opportunity to win your money back, gentlemen. Spain will win, whether Torres starts or not. Start the Fiesta now. Practice your upside-down exclamation marks. The “goofy Germans” haven’t a chance. The Dutch shall be humbled once again, by a two goal spread no less. Grab a cold Pabst Blue Ribbon. Surround yourself with cool friends. Take in as much of Africa’s finale as you can. This is a moment none shall miss.

TO MY SPANISH FRIENDS: Cast off your regional allegiances. Today is your day to bellow pride in your nation from the very bottom of your belly. On this day, you are both the European and World Champions. It matters not whether you are Basque, Catalan, or Islander. This is your day; a day you could not forget even with 200 grams of the most potent painkiller on the market. Don’t worry about your intake. Football will carry you all the way home JJ

THE LINE: Spain + 2

Editor’s retroactive notes:
RESULT: Spain 1, Netherlands 0. (120 a.e.t) The astute observer will note that all bets were on. I simply couldn’t bring myself to cut everyone off so precipitously. The unavoidable disadvantage of allowing wagering on the final match concerns the prevalence of those for whom the whole journey ended on a sour note. I inflated the line intentionally, so that the torrent of money that came in on Spain would remain in my pocket. You may recall that even if your team won, you still lost something the Euros you shelled out celebrating. Apologies. You’ve my word we’ll return to the more laid back tradition this Summer  

We beheld 120 minutes of exciting if somewhat tentative football beamed live from Johannesburg’s Soccer City. Both coaches opted for a 4-3-2-1, placing their best striker at the tip of some seriously sturdy spears. Kuyt, Schiejder, and Robben served as van Persie’s auxiliaries while Pedro, Iniesta, and Xavi were tasked with feeding the ball to Villa. The latter collection enjoyed the better half of early possession, Xavi and Iniesta working especially well together on the right flank. Mathijsen and Heitnga kept things tight at the back, however, ensuring that there was no outright early threat. Sergio Ramos forced Stekelenburg into a few routine saves and Heitinga kicked out a Villa lob destined to cross the line.

The most heart-racing chance of the first half belonged to Arjen Robben, in injury time. It was Casilias first save of the match, perhaps fortuitously introducing him into a match in which he would have to display perfection. The first twenty minutes of the second half similarly belonged to the innovative and prolific Roja. Puyol headed on a beautiful ball for Capdevilla in the 52nd. Two minutes later Xavi unfurled another gorgeous free kick that Stekelenburg had to prove equal to.

De Jong and van Bommel finally started winning of the midfield battles and were able to send Sneijder forward in the 61st. Sneijder unleashed Robben with a very sharp pass and then Bayern München winger was in on goal with only Casillas to beat. Casillas gallantly ran out to meet him and, with excellent anticipation, dove to ground to smother the eventual effort. The exact same scene essentially played out in the 82nd when Robben twisted and turned past Puyol and Pique, leaving Casillas to bail out the Spaniards with another superhuman squelching save at Robben’s feet.

Del Bosque’s men were not short of opportunities themselves as the game approached full time. Substitute Jesus Navas spun straw into gold after receiving a switch from Xavi. After racing up the right flank he picked out Villa with a frozen rope cross that the Valencia forward was sorely unlucky to see deflected just wide. Ramos again looked unstoppable in the air, even if his finish was a tick off. He sent one nanometers over the bar in the 79th. 

Extra time adjustments saw the ineffectual Xavi Alonso subbed off for Fabregas and Rafael van der Vaart brought on for the uncommonly quiet Nigel de Jong. The Dutch began to show significant signs of fatigue, having been forced to cover more ground for over an hour. The Orange spent most all of the added periods back on their heels, desperately defending in hopes of sending the match to penalty kicks. They found themselves forced to commit to full salvage mode in the 109th after stingy and staunch central defender Johnny Heitinga, who had played a fantastic match, was sent off on double yellows. Xavi, Navas, Fabregas, and Villa pelted Stekelenburg with hopeful efforts in pursuit of some inviting rebounds. Both halves of extra time belonged to la Roja, in large part thanks to the precise work of a fresh-legged Fernando Torres, brought on the 106th to shake things up.

Iniesta had draw to suspect foul on Heitinga four minutes prior to the second added interval. Four minutes from time he would ascend to the status of historic hero. With penalties imminent, Torres made the extra space work to his advantage. He drew a third of the Dutch defense toward him with a sparkling lateral run, ultimately chipping it toward a wide-open Fabregas. Fabregas spotted Iniesta onside and, within the blink of an eye, the two had an understanding of how they would collaborate. Cesc played it in forward, with Iniesta running out to collect. After steadying with a single touch, he rifled in a cross shot that left Stekelenburg with no chance even at full stretch. Pandemonium.

Thus concluded the 2010 Sportsbook, longer and more in depth that all the others combined. It took me over a month to catch up on all the sleep I had denied myself. When the bags under my eyes finally began to recede, I experienced the restless melancholy of the rested. Better to exhausted and elated, engaged in something that one loves.

Chile vs. Australia


We’re talking Arturo Vidal forward to Alexis Sanchez…and we’re talking twice. Sanchez grabs a brace and this one is over with quickly. “La Roja America” should have no problems easily dispatching an Aussie side well past its prime. On a more wonkish note, both of these countries re-instated the same prime ministers they had back when we last congregated in 2010.

The Australian Labor Party re-elevated Kevin Rudd after he was ousted by an internal coup. The Chileans re-elected Michele Bachelet after she sat out her constitutionally requisite four years. Even if Rudd was ultimately ousted in last September’s popular election, I still think the parallels are kind of cool.

You don’t think so, do you? Yeah…I know. This is one of the advantages of not writing for popular consumption. Haha. You get what you pay for, Gentlemen : ) : ) 

THE LINE: Chile +2 Goals

“Have we been here before”?

We have not, at least not in Syndicate Lore! That doesn’t affect the pick, however. ; )


Columbia vs. Greece


The defensive-minded Greeks don’t stand a chance of stemming the ferocious tide of the “Coffee Growers”….or do they? Since I wrote the “Group C Preview Section” Radamel Falcao has officially been ruled out. The Talisman has been ruled out. I’ll trust that Sokratis and Manolas know how to clear their lines against the likes of Guarin and Jackson Martinez.

The Greeks know how to win ugly….just like Conchita Wurst. They also know how to play for a draw when it’s needed. Amuse yourselves with a pick, Gentlemen.

THE LINE: Pick em’

“Have we been here before”?

Certainly not! Speculate all you like! Feel free to roar through with an upset special.

Uruguay vs. Costa Rica


“La Celeste” must solider through without Luis Suarez. I’ll act on the supposition that they can handle it….for the moment anyway. Cavani, Rodriguez, and Stuani take care of business…for now.

THE LINE: Uruguay +2 Goals

“Have we been here before”?

Not in the history of the Syndicate. Relish in the novelty.

England vs. Italy


I’ve been staring at this model of Pierluigi Collina for a few good hours now. I’ve looked into his eyes and gotten a good sense of his soul. Reciprocally, he’s stared into my eyes and feasted upon the tastiest parts of my soul. My interactions with the “Italian Oracle” haven’t yielded the results I was hoping for. It’s just to hard to call this one. If Hodgson is brave enough to drop Rooney, I predict a resounding result for England. If Prandelli is dumb enough to start Cassano, this may very well be “The year of St. George”.

On the other hand, Motta and Marchisio might be able to cut through Jagielka and Cahill. Pirlo can always deliver from set-pieces. Buffon can block enough long-range efforts from Sturridge or Wellbeck. He won’t even have to parry Rooney’s efforts at this point. The man is all but finished.

Okay…we’ll make a decision, Wopsters. England wins. Bet against it if you dare.

THE LINE: England + 1 Goal

“Have we been here before”?

EM 2012I’m afraid we have been, gentlemen. Less than two years ago it came to pass:

From EM 2012: Quarterfinals:


England vs. Italy


Skip church ye of some misplaced faith. No one misses this most fascinating of the quarterfinal matchups. Perennially underachieving St. George has a real chance to make the semi-finals for the first time since 1996! The “coach who shall not be named” did a decent enough job steering them out of a surprisingly weak group. Now he must, ABSOLUTELY MUST, get them past the Wops in 120 minutes. The Three Lions don’t do shootouts. Should the game come down to penalties, go ahead and pencil the Azzuri in for the Semis.

The Portuguese were the pesky menace in 2000, 2004, and 2006. The Germans spat in their face in 1996 and 2010. In between their termination also came at the hands of the Brazilians and Argentines, two global superpowers one can hardly blame them for losing to. The “coach who shall not be named” has a bit of work to do. As we shall see, however, he won’t have to tinker much. The Wellbeck-Rooney pairing works well enough and will only get stronger as the two gradually rebuild their Man U intuition. He’d be wise to ditch Parker for Oxlade-Chamberlin. He’d be even wiser to dump Milner for Walcott. I see no reason why the latter switch won’t commence. If I see Milner in the starting eleven, I’ll know we’re doomed once more. Terry, Cole, and Johnson are playing as if they were five years younger. Lescott still adjusts, but he’s getting there. Joe Hart has manifested himself as the rarest thing since an edible British meal: An English keeper who can actually make impressive saves. I’m positively flummoxed.

Unfortunately for the Limeys, Prandelli will have realized the error of his ways just in time to start Balotelli. Why always him? Because he’s the best Italian footballer since Totti. He even complements Cassano remarkably well. Di Natale retains just enough life in his legs to come off the bench and decide a close match. Pirlo still has the boot if you give him some time to set up. Prandelli abandoned the 3-5-2 in order to secure a critical win against Eyre. In order to accommodate a speculative 4-1-3-2, he moved up Motta and De Rossi for a midfield formation that played uglier than cellulite-ridden hindquarters all night long. We’ve seen the last of that formation, particularly after Chielleni had to hurry back to help Balzaretti and Barzaglia until his gassed ass had to be yanked in the 57th.

The return to the 3-5-2 presents its own set of problems. Cheilleni and De Rossi look to be running on empty. Bonnuci’s holiday didn’t last long either after he was recalled to relieve Chielleni. In summation, the dogged line of the Azzuri is now dog tired. They won’t be able to withstand Rooney and Wellbeck for longer than a half. Gerard and Ashley Young will encounter little difficulty scooting around the likes of Marchisio and Giaccherini. They’ve got long-range ability as well. With Balotelli in the starting eleven, the guineas have a chance…..until Prandelli loses his patience far too soon. Then the rout is on.

Projected Lineups:

 “The Three Lions” 

                         Danny Wellbeck
                         Wayne Rooney
A. Young A. Oxlade-Chamberlin  Steven Gerard  Theo Walcott
Ashley Cole Joleon Lescott  John Terry Glen Johnson
                            Joe Hart

 “The Azzuri” 

            Antonio Cassano     Mario Balotelli
Emmanuelle Giacherrini         Claudio Marchisio
    Thiago Motta       Andrei Pirlo     Alessandro Diamanti
Giorgio Chielleni      Daniele De Rossi  Leonardo Bonnucci    
                           Gianluigi Buffon

THE LINE: England + 2 Goals

Editor’s retroactive notes:
Italy 1, England 0. (4-2 P.S.O) I was too busy partying in the Südstadt to watch most of the game. I do recall that the first 120 minutes finished scoreless in spite of very worthy efforts from Pirlo, De Rossi, and Bonnucci. Balotelli and Montolivo also came close in a match the Wops deserved to win. Everyone except Montolivo came through in the shootout. Ashley Young and Joe Cole missed. For all of the none of you who wish to hear about my “Itaiian Adventure”, here it is:

From EM 2012—Day 16 Recap

EM 2012
ITALIA!! My utmost gratitude to the denizens of the Südstadt for the “festa” of the year. Flags, horns, music, raven-haired beauties, and overly dramatic gesticular mayhem until the rising sun rudely arrived to gatecrash! Viva l’Azzuri! Forza Italia! Always a pleasure. L’amo Italia! I rib at you all year long with my persistent ethnic slurs, disavowal of my own Italian heritage, and piercing mockery of your entire culture. Not today. Your moment is now. Thanks for letting a pseudo-italiano share it with you. Wrap yourself in the Tricolore and party on…..until Thursday when you’ll have to wrap it up. Then it’s our turn.

Another magical evening. One cannot go wrong partying with the Italians even if one puts effort into it. Shall we review the highlights?

19:55—Out of the door with less than an hour to spare. The streets are already ablaze with Tricolour-clad cars, all of them honking furiously. A beautiful bonanza leans of every window. Here I am waving, sweetheart. Blow me a kiss won’t you?

19:59—I haven’t even made it to the tram stop yet and already I’ve seen all four variants of the Italian flag: civil, state, naval, and war. The familiar Neapolitan pattern is the war flag. The three alternates all have a crest in the middle. Everyone’s representin’.

20:03—Oh shit. The tram isn't in service. Construction issues. We’ll have to hoof it. Good thing I’ve got my running shoes on. Time to put all that training to use. It’s going to be a sprint all the winy to Südstadt, hitchhiking thumb out all the way.

20:05—Barely made it three blocks and it’s time to slam on the brakes. Four dark-haired temptresses are standing outside a biergarten waving three gigantic Italian flags. Is one of them gesturing at me seductively? Sure as hell looks like a “come hither” face to me. This isn’t where I was supposed to end up. My preferred destination lies some 5 km away. Perhaps a smile and a wave will suffice. Damn, she’s still inviting me in. I suppose this was where I was supposed to end up after all.

20:18—I buy the girls a round and get them talking while it’s distributed. They speak flawless German and chain-smoke like a bunch of sullen divas. Turns out they’re only sixteen. Uh-oh. Time to get the check. They’re far too young to fall in love and I’m old enough to know. Best-case scenario it all ends in tears. Worst case it all ends in jail. Have a lovely evening, ladies. I have to catch up with me friend….er…..Giuseppe. Yeah that’s his name.

20:28—This hitchhiking thumb is getting me plenty of honks, but no rides. C’mon, guineas. I’m dressed in blue and wearing a Yamaha motorcycle leather jacket. Can’t you see I’m off to support your team?

20:37—At last a Fiat pulls over.

“come ti chiami?”


“Dove andate?”

“La incontro di Calcio”

“Beh! Bene. Andiamo a bere qualcosa insieme?

“Mah si”

20:45—Now this, my friends, THIS is an Italian Culture Club; a nebulous smoke-filled chamber filled with old men who have been sitting here drinking and playing dominos since noon. The pretty girls are just arriving too, but are still sober. Made it just in time to sing Il Canto degli Italiani. Time to order a Birra Moretti and settle in for kickoff.

20:49—The match is off to a cracking start. De Rossi unleashed a rocket from 50 yards out that arced past Joe Hart and off the post. At the other end, Milner threaded a cross into a scramble. Glen Johnson eventually latched onto it and Buffon did extremely well to paw it away. The bar is hopping…hopping mad that is. “Merda”, “Cazzo”, and even “Minchia” can be heard as De Rossi meets the iron. There are at least a dozen other Italian versions of “Scheiße!” that I can’t catch and hence can’t write down.

20:54—English fans can be heard singing “God Save our Queen” in Kiev. The Südstadt Italians attempt to drown them out with an effort of that song I can never remember the name of. Football fans from all countries sing it. It goes something like this:


Sigh. Yes, this is poor journalism, but I honestly don’t know what it’s called.

20:59—Hodgson clearly stipulated that Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole should act as wingers. Both have been hustling forward in ways even Lahm wouldn’t dream of. Were it not for some incredible work on defense from Leonardo Bonnucci and Ignazio Abate, this match could easily be 2-0 Lions. The action-packed pace hasn’t slowed down a hair. I haven’t even had time to take a sip of beer or even so much as glance in the direction of the girls.

21:05—Finally the tempo slows up a bit and both sides settle in for some more methodical attacks and/or cherry picked counters. Time to take a few swigs and see if the girls have any interest in having their picture taken. Whether it’s my barely there Italian or their complete and utter lack of understanding of either English or German, the message that I’m just a lowly tourist looking to capture some color on film fails. They pose as if they’ll be in tomorrow morning’s paper. Their boyfriends leer with the stink eye. Uh-oh. I foresee a change in venue come halftime. Best-case scenario this all ends in tears. Worst case it ends in jail.

21:17—The Italians continue to chip away at the English defense. Andrea Pirlo is conducting the flow from midfield, distributing well out to the flanks and even getting a few balls forward. He finds Balotelli in space around the 27th. It’s John Terry to the rescue with a flailing last-minute block. The consensus within the culture club appears to be that Balotelli should have scored.

21:24—It’s Balotelli in space again for a 34th minute chance. This time Cassano squarely for him but he can't find the handle. The Wops are restless.

21:32—41st minute and Balotelli has now missed a hat trick of fine chances. This time Pirlo finds Cassano with a full switch cross, which Cassano in turn heads back across toward Balotelli. The header is a bit of a floater, giving Joleon Lescott enough time to re-position himself for a jabbing tackle once Balotelli gains possession. Unprintable racial slurs are to be heard. Yeah…..time to thank my new friend Gennaro for the ride, settle the tab and get the hell out of here.

21:36-21:56—Carnival atmosphere out here on the street. It’s Italy day. The city has foreseen how wild things will get and hence there’s a rather hefty police presence. I swap a few remarks with the on-duty guys and gals. “What sort of crazy are we in store for?” The likes of which you’ve never seen, Herr Weis.

21:57—This pizza parlor will work. The crowd seems cerebral and jovial. While I’ll have no time to sample one of the mutant portions, the aroma will suffice. I duck my head in to make sure there’s no Eros Ramazzoti music being piped in. None. Excellent. Sold. Let’s enjoy the second half.

22:02—52nd minute in Kiev and….what the fuck just happened? Within a few chaotic seconds, Balotelli, Montolivo, Marchisio, and De Rossi all had looks at goal and registered a shot. In addition to pure luck, Joe Hart exhibits some fine keeping. A reliable English keeper. Never thought I’d see the day.

22:05—The crowd vociferously applauds as Steven Gerrard slips to fall flat on his face, ruining an otherwise promising Lions attack. I’m afraid it’s not looking good for St. George. An Italian goal seems inevitable and they’re fucking up in that trademark English way.

22:10—Finally Balotelli gets some love from the crowd after engineering a cheeky little bicycle that whizzed inches wide. Why never him? A couple of Italian Youths debate the merits of his play while their girlfriends look off into the distance. I consider joining the debate, but catch the waitress for a refill order instead.

22:13—Pirlo finds De Rossi with a gorgeous switch. While it wouldn’t be an easy opportunity by any stretch, the Roma midfielder could have done much better than to first time it into the twelfth row. Now the guys are bitching about De Rossi. I look over to see if the girls are getting involved and make inadvertent awkward eye contact. Fuck. I hate it when that happens. Where the hell is my beer?

22:16—Ashley Young might have done better as well. After an elegant hour plus of top class football, it looks as if the players are tiring out and losing their touch. Of course the real tragedy at this juncture concerned the fact that my beer had not yet arrived.

22:22—Some more exquisite defensive tackling by Ignazio Abate. Bookie scrawls down a lame-o gag in his notebook. “His defensive prowess will not abate! Hehehe. Get it? Because his last name is “Abate” and the English verb “to abate” means, “to subside”. Get it? GET IT? Yes…by this time my beer had arrived and I had taken a healthy quaff. The bad ideas were flowing.

22:33—Again it’s Terry to the rescue, this time off Marchisio. He appeared to be finally be in as good a form as before the racism scandal.

22:34—Christ, Rooney! THAT WAS THE GAME. By what logic did you arrive at the decision NOT EVEN TO ATTEMPT an aerial challenge?

22:38-22:47—The Italians do everything they possibly can to avert extra time. Diamanti forces Joe Hart into an acrobatic save. Glen Johnson tackles away from Montolivo at the last moment. Rooney gives us a final flourish with a sweet bike, but we’re off to extra time. The girls have not been able to re-join the animated male-dominated conversation and are now staring at me. Time to go. Best-case scenario it all ends in tears. Worst case it ends in jail.

22:48-22:50—Off into the street to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Azzuri faithful and they peer at the public viewing screen. Balotelli tries to ingest some Gatorade before the advent of extra time, yet spews it all out as one of his teammates conveys a funny joke. Guess he needed a laugh after those 90 minutes. A special support staff tends to the legs of Terry, Rooney, and Johnson. Heavy massaging going on as they try to prevent them from cramping up.

23:01—Balotelli fires the first salvo of the added period. Man, is this guy ever going to be a beast. He’s all of 21-years-of-age. He’ll be scoring goals in these tournaments for another decade or more.

23:03-23:08—Three more quality chances for the Azzuri before the first period of added time comes to a close. Montolivo and Pirlo have played a whale of game, but are now too exhausted to provide the crisp finish. Buffon pumps his first emphatically. A close up of him reveals he’s painted his neck blue. I attempt to ask a bystander if he’s always done this in Italian, but am so tipsy it comes out in German. He doesn’t understand. I then try English before we both settle on some conversational French. Nothing came out of it as we both fumbled for words before agreeing that we should resume watching the game.  

23:14—And we have a goal! Nope. It’s offsides. The street eruptions in elation until I tap at least twelve guineas on the shoulder to point out the flag.

23:15-23:23—Diamanti and the Azzuri push hard for the win. Almost no English possession down the stretch. We’re off to penalties and I already know who’s going to win.

From the Quarterfinals Section:

“The “coach who shall not be named” did a decent enough job steering them out of a surprisingly weak group. Now he must, ABSOLUTELY MUST, get them past the Wops in 120 minutes. The Three Lions don’t do shootouts. Should the game come down to penalties, go ahead and pencil the Azzuri in for the Semis.”

23:25-23:30—There was hope for the Limeys in the beginning. Gerrard and Balotelli swapped conversions before Rooney and Montolivo split the difference. The Lions were 2-1 ahead going into the third round. Then of course, the two Ashleys had to fuck up. Ashley Young struck the bar while Ashley Cole keeps a weak effort on the ground for Buffon to collect. Pirlo, Nocerino, and Diamanti made no such mistakes. Hugs, cheers, and fireworks all around

23:31-??:??—Time to join the parade. If there’s one thing the Italians are capable of, it’s driving around a 4 square mile radius all night long flaunting themselves. I counted 323 unique cars, four of which I was invited to ride in. I only saw two of them collide. Pretty decent accident ratio for the Italians. With the po-pos standing guard the rowdy celebrations remained peaceful throughout. A violent thunderstorm rolled into town as the two o’clock hour approached. The steady downpour didn’t stand a chance of dampening anyone’s spirits. Yes, I’m about to quote that Adele song again. We set fire to the rain! By the time I’d had enough, there wasn’t a tram going anywhere. An hour-long schlep through the unrelenting split-sky raindrops….with an Adele song stuck in my head. No complaints. It was all worth it. The semis are here. Hard to believe, but there’s even more fun waiting.

--How many fucking times did I tell you that Milner wasn’t going to work? Grrr…had “the coach who shall not be named” only listened to me.

From the Preview Section:

“Milner lacks Lampard’s mobility and gusto. I’ve watched him shuffle his hulking frame around, seemingly doing his best to be a non-factor in the match for three Premiership Clubs now. He failed win me over at Aston Villa, Newcastle, and finally Man City. Physically he looks as if he should be every bit as celebrated as Steven Gerrard. Somehow he just fails to inspire.”

From the Day 4 Recap:

“What did I tell you about Milner? WHAT DID I TELL YOU ABOUT MILNER? I shall tell you what I…er…told you about Milner. Sorry, it’s late.

Did I tell you or did I tell you…or did I tell you? Fuck, I’m tired.”

From Round Three:

“No Milner. As limitless as his physical potential may be, he’s already had years to prove himself. It’s over. Let him go.”

From the Quarterfinals Section:

“He’d be even wiser to dump Milner for Walcott. I see no reason why the latter switch won’t commence. If I see Milner in the starting eleven, I’ll know we’re doomed once more.”

Dammit. What the hell is this? I point out the obvious to you FOUR times, and you don’t listen! Why won’t you listen? I’m a haughty individual of average intelligence who believes it my solemn duty to tell you what to do…and…oh dear lord I’ve become my father. NOOOOOO!!!!!

--The “coach who shall not be named” implemented none of the recommendations many of us were screaming at him. He started Young, Parker, and Milner while keeping Walcott, Downing, and Oxlade-Chamberlin on the bench. He didn’t give Jones or Leighton Baines a shot. In spite of his poor lineup selection, he got the substitutions spot on. Carroll for Wellbeck in the 60th, Walcott for Milner in the 61st. The pair of swaps was well timed to shake things up in the final half hour. Henderson for Parker in the 64th was another move that got me excited. All three should have, by all accounts, added some sort of extra dimension to the game. Alas they were duds off the bench. Should have started them, Roy! Once the Azzuri get rolling, there remains little one can accomplish in the way of mitigation.

--Prandelli listened to us. He kept Balotelli in for the full 120. After coming agonizingly close a solid eight times, he buried his spot kick to get the Wops off on the right foot. Nocerino proved a smart selection. How to rest Chielleni without invoking controversy? Invent an injury! Perfect. Why didn’t I think of that? By Jove, Abate, Barzagli, and Balzaretti rose to the occasion. They didn’t have to switch back to the 3-5-2 after all. Way to dump Giacherreni, Motta, and Maggio. Ya did good, son.

--Sorry, Lions fans. You know we have to do this. It will be quite painful, but it’s necessary. We must fully chronicle the failures of your boys in shootouts. In what will surely be a first, I must reprint a passage that I’ve already run above.

From the Quarterfinals Section:

“The “coach who shall not be named” did a decent enough job steering them out of a surprisingly weak group. Now he must, ABSOLUTELY MUST, get them past the Wops in 120 minutes. The Three Lions don’t do shootouts. Should the game come down to penalties, go ahead and pencil the Azzuri in for the Semis.”

Fight the urge to look away. This must be done.

Cote d’Ivoire vs. Japan


I want to hit my goddamned button. Unfortunately, the latest FIFA rankings preclude me from doing so. Les Elephants have leapfrogged the Japs. If anyone else is interested in learning what a farce the FIFA Rankings can be, expend a few minutes reading the following article:

I trust my Elephants. I believe that Soloman Kalou and Gervinho can somehow find a way to make it happen. I also believe that Yaya Toure is done pouting. Now he’ll supply us all with a “skill show”

THE LINE: Cote d’Ivoire +2 Goals

“Have we been here before”?

Negative. Onwards and upwards.


Switzerland vs. Ecuador


Ohhh….I’m thinking it’s about time we hit that button, Yes indeed. By all accounts the Swiss should be heavy favorites here, but surely there’s one surprise waiting for us here in the first round . Die Schweizer Nazi furnished us with the first major upset of 2010 when they tip-toed past the Spaniards in the opening round. Hitzfeld has plenty of more weapons at his disposal this time, but he strikes me as just the type of boring “old school” German who will fail to make use of them.


A 4-3-2-1 remains perhaps the most conservative formation one can trot out. Josip Drmic and Hans Seferovic are both legitimate “Number 9s”, but I don’t see Hitzfeld playing them together. He wants Stocker, Xhaka, Inler, and Shaquiri to serve as “false 9s” is his carefully calibrated “teamwork system”. For an old-fashioned hawk like Hitzfeld. For him it all begins at the back with his two stocky centerbacks and two stay-at-home fullbacks. Maintaining defensive discipline is priority #1. Others are encouraged to venture forward only on the counter. He won’t come out with guns blazing. He wishes to grind out a goal at the appropriate time.

Can “La Tri” take advantage of this? If they still had Austin Tenorio and Austin Delgado, no problem. As eluded to in the preview section, however, current striking pair Enner Valencia and Felipe Caicedo just don’t possess enough raw talent to conjure up those opportunities out of thin air. They need it served up to them. He matches up well against either Stocker or Shaquiri on the flanks. Since R. Rodriguez and Lichsteiner don’t really move much, he can take them on without much difficulty to. Hitzfeld will scramble to make adjustments, and his bench isn’t that deep.


THE LINE: Ecuador +1 Goal

“Have we been here before”?

Not yet…a’int that cool?

France vs. Honduras


Even without Ribery it’s a mismatch.  Let the minnows die. That’s what minnows are for.  The loss of Ribery is, in point of fact, looking to be less drastic than we all initially thought. Deschamps could move Matuidi up to the left or maybe even give a shot to this kid Antoine Greizmann. He’s certainly demonstrated a keen nose for goal, striking seven times in 25 Caps for the French National Youth Teams. He’s pretty swell in terms of his touch. He’s also got great acceleration, hustles hard, and shows a real flair for dribbling. Hell, he may very well be “Tomorrow’s Ribery, Today”. Less than 48 hours ago I was lamenting the critical loss of France’s lynchpin. Now I’m all excited about their prospects in this tournament and beyond (They’ll host Euro 2012—might as well break these kids in here).

I see Benzema knocking in a through ball and perhaps Evra delivering off a set-piece. “Les Bleus” eradicate the terrible legacy of 2010 in 90 minutes of pulsating football.

THE LINE: France +2 Goals

“Have we been here before”?

Nope. “Les Bleus” and the “Big Blue H” haven’t clashed yet…in our time.

Argentina vs. Bosnia & Herzegovina


For all my salivating talk of the awesome Dzeko-Ibisevic striking axis, it won’t be easy for our debutantes to get into gear against the greatest club in the world. Higuain, Messi, and Aguero constitute perhaps the scariest attacking trident any international tournament has ever seen. They should have little difficulty running roughshod over Bikakcic and Sphacic.

Debuts are always hard, my dear “Golden Lillies”. Don’t take it personal. You’ve still got all it takes to get out of this group. You’ll bounce back strong ; )

THE LINE: Argentina +2 Goals

“Have we been here before”?

Impossible. That’s the beauty of it ; )


Nigeria vs. Iran


Speaking of rude awakenings, the “Princes of Persia” have to open up against the reigning African Champions hungry for their first World Cup Win in sixteen years! I set a low line here only because I’m unsure of how well Odemwingie will be able to re-integrate himself into Keshi’s overhauled offense. It’s imperative that he not selfishly hog possession, distributing adequately to Moses and Musa on the flanks, and Emenike should he manage to spring the offside trap.

In theory it should all work out. In practice it will take 70-80 minutes of stalemate football. The Super Eagles win with a late effort.

THE LINE: Nigeria +1 Goal

“Have we been here before”?

Eh, eh. Shake of the head. No previous meetings in Syndicate Lore.

Deutschland vs. Portugal


How in the hell do we do this without Reus? Do we give Schürrle the start? Perhaps Christoph Kramer? Do we attempt to place Lahm in midfield, or maybe even (believe it or not I’m completely serious) Mertesacker? Should we give Durm the start at Left Back and let him run wild?

I don’t have exemplary answers to such laudable questions. All I do know is that Löw and Flick can surely come up with something. With all of this talk about the lack of a legitimate striker, I have a hunch that Müller is being groomed as a “Real Number 9”. I expect him to surge forward in the event that Götze or Podolski can deliver penetrating crosses. I also expect that all the midfielders will try their luck from distance and that one of them will break through.

We’re told that the Mannschaft is feeling close and in high spirits. We’ve no choice but to believe that, much in the same way that my elderly father has no choice but to believe in the afterlife.

We will see. We simply must believe. 

THE LINE: Mannschaft +1 Goal

“Have we been here before”?

God yes. Let’s begin in 2006:

From WM 2006—Goodbyes and Championship Pick:

WM 2006
Wasted and wounded.
It a’int what the (morose) moon did.
I’ll see you tomorrow.
Hey Frank, can I borrow.
A couple of bucks from you

To go a waltzing adherents
Waltzing, adherents
You, come a waltzing
Adherents with me JJ

The lyrics belong to the only man to openly admit that he’s happy to grow older. I concur with Tom Waits one hundred percent. Someday I’ll ripen into the old guy I’ve always wanted to be. Hopefully, you’ll all be around…and I’ll see you….on a downtown train JJ

Final bets are to be placed on the Bronze Medal contest:

Third Place Match—Deutschland vs. Portugal

No Jens Lehman. No Michael Ballack. No Per Mertesacker or Lucas Podolski. Our reserves will nevertheless retain our honor. A third place match usually features plenty of goals. Good money suggests Nowotny, Kahn, Hanke, and Asamoah will play their hearts out. Kahn especially will let loose like a bat out of Karlsruhe.

THE LINE: Deutschland +2 Goals

Editor’s retroactive notes:
RESULT: Germany 3, Portugal 1. Will all due respect to Kahn, Luis Figo, and Nuno Gomez, this match was all about Schweine. He came alive with two scintillating blasts from 20 yards out of the box’s left side. At 56 minutes he danced past Ricardo Costa and dribbled all the way in from the left flank before letting a laser fly. Four minutes later Petit knocked in one of his low-driven set pieces. It was Schweine again for the unofficial Hat Trick in the 78th, murdering another ball from nearly the identical spot for a spine-tingling thriller. Watching highlights from that clarion summer afternoon in Stuttgart, one winces at the thought of Schweine’s current crisis. He’s been continuously injured all year, and will in all likelihood fail to regain his fitness in time for the summer tournament. The man is a grounded F-22 Tomcat. We’ll miss his destructive potential.

From EM 2008—“Quarterfinals”

EM 2008Thursday

Portugal vs. Deutschland

Nightmares. Joachim Löw has been suspended for this match. That means he’ll be sitting next to Merkel in stands while the on-the-fly adjustments are carried out under the command of…Oliver Bierhof? Nightmares. Clemens Fritz and Mario Gomez in the starting eleven. Nightmares. The return of well rested Nuno Gomez, Deco, Christiano Ronaldo, Simao, and Petit. Nightmares. Honestly I don’t see how we get past this team. However, since I've exploited so much Wop pride in this tournament, I should at least give you guys the chance to take advantage of my soft spot. Get those pincer attacks in!

Feel free to also wager on whether Löw or Merkel will be wearing uglier scarf.

Projected Lineups:

 “The Navigators” 

1) Ricardo
2) Paulo Ferreira
3) Ricardo Carvalho
4) Pepe
5) Jose Bosingwa
6) Joao Moutinho
7) Petit
8) Deco 
9) Simao
10) Christiano Ronaldo
11) Nuno Gomez

 “Die Mannschaft” 

1) Jens Lehman
2) Arne Friedrich
3) Phillip Lahm
4) Per Mertesacker
5) Christoph Metzelder
6) Clemens Fritz
7) Michael Ballack
8) Torsten Frings
9) Mario Gomez
10) Lucas Podolski
11) Miroslav Klose

Prop Bets (As always, feel free to offer your own)
Over/Under ---4 Goals
120 Minutes— straight up
Penalty Shootout— straight up
Klose brace—2 to 1
Klose Hat Trick – 3 to 1
Ballack brace---2 to 1
Podolski brace –2 to 1
Gomez brace—3 to 1
Schweinsteiger start –2 to 1
Neuville substitution (80+) –2 to 1
Odonkor substitution (80+) –2 to 1
Hitzlsberger start –3 to 1
C. Ronaldo brace –straight up
C. Ronaldo Hat Trick –2 to 1
Deco brace --3 to 1
Simao brace –2 to 1
Nuno Gomez brace—straight up
Quaresma start  – 2 to 1
Postiga substitution (70+) –2 to 1
Fernando Meira start – 3 to 1
Hugo Almeida start --  2 to 1

THE LINE: Deutschland +1 Goal

Editor’s retroactive notes:
RESULT: Germany 3, Portugal 2. In an ironic twist, the Portuguese lineup was picked perfectly while I failed to come anywhere near to forecasting the German starting eleven. Löw had told Schweinsteiger that he owed a “debt” to his fellow countrymen following his red card against Croatia. He apparently also told him he would start as a means of ameliorating it. Joining Schweinsteiger in midfield were Rolfes in place of Frings and Hitzlsberger in place of Fritz. Gomez was left off with the striking tandem of Klose-Podolski once again reunited.

Schweine was on fire throughout. Lahm and Ballack worked a nice through ball for Podolski in the 22nd. Podolski opted to go wide on the left flank while Schweine trailed onside. The center was an inviting low ball that Schweine hustled to catch up to and finished with a slide. Four minutes later looped in a free kick for Klose to head in. 2-0 thanks in large part to his tremendous play. The persistent Navigators threw anything they could on net. Moments after missing just wide, Ronaldo managed to get a re-direction from Lehman and it was Nuno Gomez with the rebound in the 40th. An all-out Navigator blitz concluded the half with Ronaldo once again shaving the woodwork seconds before halftime.

Schweine assisted on the final German goal as well, again with a lovely taken free kick this time for Ballack. Scolari sent on Nani and Postiga to spark the offense while Hans Dieter Flick (not Oliver Bierhof) padded the defensive ranks with Fritz and Jansen. It was a nail-biting finish after Postiga headed in a Nani cross in the 87th. A disciplined Mannschaft kept their shape for another eight minutes and it was time for a celebratory Hefeweizen…the only alcohol consumed by the bookie throughout the entire campaign. J

From EM 2012—“Round One”:

Deutschland vs. Portugal
EM 2012

Not to worry, I will not wimp out on my syndicate members. No one-goal-line in this instance. Through mad devotion and a stack of glossy EM Magazines I’ve gradually talked myself into a two-goal spread. This in spite of the new Schweinsteiger injury, mentioned merely so that you might have time to talk yourself into a bet. A two-tier-striker-system should be capable of scoring a minimum of two goals. Klose early on. Gomez with the glancing off a Reus cross minutes from time….using his phenomenally stupid hair. Little credence has been given to the Navigators’ poor performance during the tournament friendlies. Such mic checks do not factor in to any serious analysis. We face an exceedingly threatening team piloted by the most dangerous weapon not thought up by Oppenheimer.

Apropos the dreams of madmen, I found myself stirred awake last night by the thought of Nani out-dekeing an overwhelmed Jerome Boateng. There were other dreams as well, including one in which I was hired back to one of my old jobs and tasked with eating rusty nails for eight hours…but the Nani hallucination was far more terrifying. Overall, I awoke screaming four times last night (common for a smoker). In each separate case I succeeded in comforting myself back to sleep by tethering back to the four separate realizations:

1) You’ll never have to see those people again. Even if circumstance wills it, the direction to eat rusty nails remains highly improbable.

2) As real as it may have seemed, you did not, in fact, register for six classes then peculiarly forget about FOUR of them until the day of the final exam.

3) Relax, relax, relax. If, by some chance inconceivable chance, you ran into THAT ex-girlfriend, you would be too repulsed to sleep with her.      

4) Müller and Mertesacker can probably handle Nani.

Editor’s retroactive notes:

It doesn’t get much more from the heart than this. Gentlemen, I give you my four most common nightmares. I need to stop smoking. Damn the nicotine!

Man oh man. Life’s tough for a smoker. That was a light duty night. Back to the issue at hand, if Mertesacker and Badstuber close ranks as Boateng pushes forward we should have little to fear. Podolski and Müller are experienced at striker, so we could conceivably put the outcome beyond doubt early. Reus should continue his fine form, Götze salivating off the sidelines. No doubt Löw reads my columns. He’s seen the Vice-Light. He’ll pick the lineup that looked to be brimming with ideas against Israel. All will be well…..until I close my eyes this evening.

Regular readers are familiar with the root of my nervousness. The Mannschaft has now beaten the Navigators in three consecutive tournaments. In 2006 and 2010 we pummeled them in the third place match. In 2008 we upset them in the quarterfinals. The odds will crash in eventually…just not yet.

THE LINE: Mannschaft + 2 Goals

Editor’s retroactive notes:
RESULT: Germany 1, Portugal 0. Yes, I lost a whole heap of money. You would have nevertheless had difficulty finding a happier German on the planet than me. Understand something: This was the FIRST time I had the honor of witnessing a German Victory in a major tournament on German soil. As intimately involved as I’ve been with the Syndicate, I had only previously had the opportunity of cheering on my Mannschaft with my fellow countrymen during either friendlies or qualifying matches. What a HUGE deal it was. FINALLY. I could scream “Deutschland” in the streets without being detained. FINALLY. I could wave my flag, paint my face, and exchange hugs with a bunch of drunken Krauts. The fact that I often speak grammatically incorrect German was immaterial. Everyone’s speech was slurred on that magical night. I was FINALLY home. For the first time in my life, I was FINALLY home. It only took twenty-nine years of hardship and toil.

By my side sat my father; an equally eccentric man who overdoes and overthinks everything. Through the magic of football, fatherland, and (perhaps most helpful) booze we FINALLY got to spend an evening together NOT thinking. Na endlich. So much of life is spent waiting. More I cannot type, for fear of collapsing into a sobbing heap of non-man.

Löw deployed an intriguing 4-2-3-1 that pitted Gomez as the lone striker. Of particular note he expressed faith in Podolski by placing him a the flanking left midfielder. Another move that left Germans praying that Joachim knew what he was doing involved Hummels taking Mertesacker’s place.

The mood could best be described as tense while we watched two überstacked countries effectively cancel one another out over the opening minutes. Neither side opted to take much initiative. Gomez and Müller patiently sat back hoping to capitalize on a defensive error. Christiano Ronaldo, Nani, and Helger Postiga behaved similarly. No such errors were to commence. Bruno Alves and Pepe cut out any attempts by Schweine to lift balls into the box. At the other end, Hummels sprawled to prevent Fabio Coentrao from squaring to Postiga.

Podolski showed signs of activity on the left flank. He shook off coverage well, but failed to find Gomez on numerous occasions. Gomez himself appeared to be doing little other than waiting for the perfect aerial delivery. An entire nation wondered aloud when Klose would be introduced. The Polish-born striker certainly possessed a more diverse skill set. Unlike Gomez, he could be relied upon to shake things up with his feet.

Shortly before the half, the German back-line demonstrated signs of weakness. The magnificent Ronaldo punched through to put a shot on Neuer. Badstuber and Boateng could only manage ineffective clearances. Lahm was, as usual, roaming about attempting to anticipate a counter. Things got truly scary when a Ronaldo corner was improperly cleared straight to Pepe. The Real Madrid man first-timed a fireball that hit the crossbar, then bounced directly off the line. I distinctly recall thinking that it had crossed the line. Replay evidence, however, suggests otherwise.

This heart-stabbing effort led to much dismay at halftime. Unless Löw found a way of altering the tenor of this match, it looked as if the Navigators would prevail in a tight and tentative contest. We watched closely as the teams trotted out of the tunnel. Andre Schürrle was warming up for a possible substitution. Klose, Lars Bender, and Marco Reus were stretching as well. This notwithstanding, Löw didn’t approach the fourth official to report a change. He would stick with his eleven. Evidently he had spent his break firing up Khedira and Müller. Both were harshly denied thanks to acrobatic defense work from Coentrao and Raul Meireles.

Though the Mannschaft essentially dominated the opening twenty minutes after the restart, Joao Moutinho and C. Ronaldo nearly combined for the goal of the tournament. Moutinho unleashed Ronaldo with a telegraphed pass that left the captain all alone in space against a flustered Neuer. I remember thinking, “This MUST be the end.” Ronaldo took an excellent first touch and cocked back to shoot. There wasn’t a white shirt anywhere near him….or so we thought. Charging all the way from the other end of the pitch came Jerome Boateng. He was in a confident mood, having just gotten laid by a supermodel. He executed a brave full stretch slide tackle to tip the ball away from Ronaldo’s tenacious boot at the LAST possible moment. It was gorgeous. Bringschuld, Baby!

Eleven or so minutes later, Flight Director Schweine set up the header that Gomez had been waiting the entire night for. The Fatherland took the lead for good in the 72nd minute. Neuer bailed us all out with an incredible save in the 88th. By all accounts, the match should have ended up tied, but for Neuer and Boateng. As blitzed as I got that night, I remembered every last detail. A truly special evening indeed. ;)

 German Fans 

Come on in a little closer. We won’t bite. You have my word. We love the outdoors. We love to drink, sing, and laugh outdoors. Don’t be shy. Only the most ignorant and least-traveled among us are looking for a fight. (Now that I think of it, the same applies to Americans). We’re actually very nice people; among the sweetest you’ll ever meet. We may have high standards, but we only apply them to ourselves. We may have an affinity for torture. Again, only that which is applied to ourselves. We may have hatred in our genes. Guess where it’s goes? We wouldn’t budge to hurt a fly. It’s our own fault for being in that fly’s vicinity. Won’t you be our neighbor? Hi neighbor! Been thinking about you. Let me change into this cardigan and show you around. 

After much deliberation, I can only conclude that there is but one location where I should watch this match: On the Karlsruhe Fan Mile with the old man. I’ll spare you all the gory details, but it’s bonding time. Have you called your father recently if you’re still lucky enough to do so? Share a moment in whatever way current happenstance allows. Call your dad. Go ahead. I’ll wait for you. 

Editor’s retroactive notes:

Er….as it turns out, there was no “Karlsruhe Fan Mile”. The old man cursed me pretty hard, but we eventually found a great place to watch the game….in Durlach of all places.

Ghana v. USA


Are you ready, America? You’ve waiting four long years to see your country represented in this Sportsbook (three in the event you tuned in to watch your “Killer Ladies” back in 2011). All this time. The last time you competed in a Syndicate Chapter (not counting the qualifiers) the Syndicate wasn’t even a blog. It was sent out via “Listserv” for chrissake!

You’ve waited so long…and your friendly bookie has a very special “welcome home” present for you. This Line shall be a pick. All you have to do is win. Nice and simple. Clear and neat. Cool and froody.

Supremely ironic that you have to debut against your old arch-nemesis. Below you’ll find some historical footnotes….and below that the sacred phrase.

Missed you guys. Welcome home!

THE LINE: Pick em’

“Have we been here before”?

We’ve been there, here and everywhere. Partake if you dare:
WM 2006 
From WM 2006—Round Three:


Ghana vs. USA


It’s morning in America. Your friendly bookie Vicey shall serve as your alarm clock. Ahem…


Juice, Coffee, Sausage Links, Crushed-up Nodoz, Irish Coffee, Wake & Bake. Whatever you have to do to rise up and stay up for this one, get to work on your strategy. If anyone happens to mention in passing that they slept in late, I’m going to insert a mop-handle directly up your rectum you unpatriotic asshole.

I know it’s been trying to follow these foundering footballers and their regrettably unexciting brand of pitch play. Fortunately you remain in contention for the Round of 16, where we can put all of this unpleasantness behind us and look forward to a fresh start. You’ll need to come out guns blazing. The loss of Eddie Pope is as inconsequential as it gets, considering Arena will have to deploy a third striker anyway. I’d personally like to see either Ching or Wolff get a confidence vote, but we all know it will be either Beasley or Johnson. Donovan will press on the right and one of those two will fill the left with McBride in the middle.

A suspension of greater concern is Pablo Mastroeni. Ordinarily his absence would be immaterial, given how shitty he’s played and the equal or greater worth of John O’Brien. While O’Brien could potentially be an upgrade, he’s hurt and in a crisis. Thus, we’ll likely see Eddie Lewis return to his natural position. He can’t possibly perform worse than he did at left back against the Czechs, but he’s still well past his prime. Dempsey has certainly earned his stripes. He must start. In terms of the rest of the midfield, we’ve heard almost nothing from Convey and Reyna this entire tournament. Convey was indirectly responsible for Zaccardo’s own goal in the Italy match, but I’m afraid that’s not nearly good enough. Arena would be a fool not to start defender Jimmy Conrad as the roving midfielder. Someone has to instigate better movement up the pitch. This would leave Onyewu, Bocanegra, and Cherundolo at the back. Risky as it may be, you’re asking to lose if you start five backs in such a crucial match.

The Black Stars boast a more talented team, but must reorganize in light of two pivotal suspensions. Goalscorers Asamoah Gyan and Shelly Muntari are double-yellow ineligible. Gyan’s replacement will either be Razak Pimpong or Alex Tachie Mensah. The two have only nine Caps between them and neither has ever scored a goal for their country. The Muntari loss is even more devastating. A plastic-pitch player from the Serbian League named Haminu Draman is only remaining midfielder available to replace him. Word is he was called up by Serbian coach Radomir Dujkovic on a preposterous hunch.

So there we have it, Yanks. The preceding paragraph affords you some hope, a single ray if you will. Chelsea’s 35 million dollar rent boy Michael Essien will be starting. He’ll get plenty of balls forward to Matthew Amoah whatever other cast Dujkovic assembles. I’ll give you a low line and wish you luck. Don’t oversleep on me.

THE LINE: Ghana +1 Goal

Editor’s retroactive notes:
RESULT: Ghana 2, USA 1. “Plastic pitch player” Haminu Draman may not have been such a “preposterous hunch” after all. He snatched possession from an inattentive Claudio Reyna just outside the 18 in the 22nd second minute, propelling the ball forward before catching up for a rifling strike that left Keller with no chance. Reyna buckled his knees and fell flat on his face. He tried to play through the injury for another twenty minutes before Arena was forced to sub in Ben Olsen. For the American captain it was a fitting end to a disastrous tournament. Two minutes before the half Demarcus Beasley won a smart tackle of his own in the danger area. He then crossed to a streaking (and slightly offside Clint Dempsey) for the only American goal of the competition.

The celebration was short-lived as the Ghanaians pushed to restore the lead before halftime. Pimpong missed by inches in the 46th. An incontrovertibly bad call gave Stephen Appiah a successful spot kick in the 47th. Inside the box Onyewu gave Mensah a slight shove that he shamefully oversold. Heading into the tunnel, the Black Stars were back on top. As disgracefully bad as the call was, the U.S. still had 45 plus minutes to rectify matters. During the second half they failed to even produce a shot on goal, though McBride did thunk a diving header off an Eddie Lewis cross of the bar. Onyewu, Donovan, and Bocanegra could only produce efforts that were humiliatingly wide. Substitutes Convey and Johnson did absolutely nothing.
WM 2010 
From WM 2010—“Round of Sixteen—Part I”:

USA vs. Ghana


No need for me to lecture American fans!! You’ve been past Round of Sixteen twice in my lifetime (1994 and 2002)! I have a great feeling about tomorrow, but I do wish to pass on some friendly advice: The Knockout Rounds can turn euphoria into tears in a split second. All of the hype and all of the parties you panned can crumble to dust with just one play. Keep this in mind as you plan your soirée. It may amount to nothing more than a bunch of drunks sadly filtering out. Keep this in mind as you prepare your celebration dance. You may be doin the “Blow Chunks and Ask Why”. I declared Day 8 “Heartbreak Hour”. Now “Heartbreak Season” has arrived. Prepare yourself for the worst by giving yourself a “Failure Pep Talk”. Start your day by looking in the mirror and releasing your inner Stuart Smalley. Go through the following speech:

“We might lose today. The World Cup dream could be dead by this evening, Even if we lose, it’s only a game. If I focus on my own life, four years will go by like that! No matter the result today, I’m going to have a good time. I do this because I’m good enough, smart enough, and God dammit….people like me!! LET’S WATCH SOME FOOTBALL!!”

This exhibits some striking similarities to the speech I give to myself before going out on a hot date:

“I might not get laid tonight. I may very well stumble home drunk this evening with a bad case of blue balls. Even if I don’t get laid, I can always come home, jerk off, hit the sack, and get a lot of work done tomorrow. If I focus on my own life, whatever she says is not important.  No matter what she says tonight, I’m going to have a good time. I do this because I’m good enough, smart enough, and God dammit….people like me!! LET’S GO CHECK OUT SOME TAIL!!”

With over a 98% success rate, you can’t go wrong with either of these speeches. Trust me, the ritual works.

All of this being said, I want your team to win tomorrow. I want you to be able to bet on your team and take orgasmic pleasure in not only winning the game, but the line as well. Regrettably, if you’re reading this, it is already too late to accept a one goal line. I’ve taken so many phone calls for the U.S. plus one in the last five hours that I have no choice to push up the line. In the future, please call your bookie earlier if you have the passion. Yes, I know it’s my fault for not getting the lines up two days ago. Not very easy when I have a FULL-TIME JOB!!!

Good luck, Yanks. JJJJJ

Projected Lineups:

 “Black Stars” 

1) Richard Kingson
2) Isaac Vorsah
3) John Paintsil
4) Kevin-Prince Boateng
5) Asamoah Gyan
6) Kwadmoh Asamoah
7) Andre Ayew
8) Anthony Annan
9) Sulley Muntari
10) Dominic Adiyiah
11) Prince Tagoe

 “Sam’s Army” 

1) Tim Howard
2) Carlos Bocanegra
3) Jonathan Bornstein
4) Steve Cherundulo
5) Jay Demerit
6) Maurice Edu
7) Michael Bradley
8) Clint Dempsey
9) Landon Donovan
10) Michael Findley
11) Jozy Altidore


Editor’s retroactive notes:
RESULT: Ghana 2, USA 1. (120 a.e.t)  Okay, American enthusiasts. For the third consecutive game in this tournament, you got hosed to a certain extent. Let’s go over it in detail so that you may refresh yourselves as to precisely how you were hard done by. Over Twenty million Americans tuned in to watch this historic match. Chances are you were one of them. We still need to get the facts straight after your cup of knowledge has long since been refilled by NFL Free Agency acquisitions and bong resin.

The Ghanaians played this one ultra-conservatively, deploying a 4-5-1 in hopes of shutting down the surging Donovan and Dempsey. After Gomez’s lukewarm outing, Bradley restored Findley to his place alongside Altidore. He also brought back Ricardo Clark and had Bornstein and Cherundolo swap sides. None of the moves panned out. Before exiting with an injury in the 31st, Ricardo Clark was solely responsible for the first goal after a silly turnover in midfield. Former German bad boy Kevin Prince Boateng latched on to the rookie mistake and dribbled all the way inside the 18, beating Tim Howard for a fifth minute opening goal.

Bradley could seemingly do no right. His substitution of Maurice Edu for the wounded Clark appeared to have been the logical choice. Yet, he might have done better to bring in Beasley, a more experienced natural center midfielder who had played opposite Boateng in the Premiership. He swapped out Findley for Feilhaber at the half, reorganizing into a 5-4-1 that might be more successful exploiting Black Star lateral ability. Again, it was the switch most any of us would have made. Feilhaber had an off game however, twice failing to furnish a decent finish twenty minutes into the restart.

In the interest of being as magnanimous as possible, Kingson had another monster of a game. His two saves of Feilhaber were above average. He also did well to challenge Altidore in the 68th, deny him again in the 72nd, and cut down Michael Bradley in the 76th. The two Mensah also performed their duties clinically, squeezing out Altidore in the 81st and Donovan in the 89th. Mensah also fouled Altidore unabashedly from the back earlier in the match and American football tackled Clint Dempsey in the 61st. A penalty was rightly awarded, which Donovan converted. Normal time ended with the two sides drawn. An additional half hour would be needed to separate the sides.

Running for 120 minutes is unimaginably difficult. Even in my prime, I could manage perhaps 70 on my best day. It is such that teams often stall for time in the overage period, and the match comes down to penalties more often than not. That’s still no excuse for the poor sportsmanship exhibited by the Black Stars after they regained the lead. The dynastic Andre Ayew threaded in a gorgeous ball for Asamoah Gyan in the 93rd. The Rennes striker used a brilliant first touch to leave Bocanegra and Demerit in the dust and beat Howard.

Now comes the part where you MIGHT have been hard done by. Uncle Sam was clearly exhausted and they could manage no almost offensive efforts in the first period of overtime. However, around the 113th they found their second wind and engineered three decent balls forward. The momentum was shifting. In order to interrupt the flow, Rajevac called for the substitution of Inkoom, at that time at the far side of the sideline. Inkoom took his sweet ass time getting off the pitch, even pausing to exchange a few words with his replacement Shelley Muntari. The waltzing gait and faux inspirational address burned almost two minutes. So now then. Could this additional two minutes have made a difference? We’ll never truly know, but the likely answer is no. The U.S. was fatigued and prostrate, out of substitutions and out of ideas. One still never likes to see a team so blatantly milk the clock. It’s cheap and totally unnecessary.

Just like that another U.S. WM campaign came to a close. Two wrongly disallowed goals and a bit of chicanery. Be not bitter if you find it feasible. Robert Greene gave you a bit of luck. Despite the two disallowed goals, you still finished atop your group…atop of your former colonial brethren. You faced the weaker opponent in the Round of 16 and have only yourself to blame for the defensive lapses. Is football inherently equitable? Certainly not. Is life? Whoever the hell you are, you know the answer to that question. You’ll be back. Be full of enthusiasm and not paranoia.