Thursday, September 27, 2007

Dear Brazil: Bite me

It sounds greedy, considering that the U.S. Women's team was in position to possibly win its third World Cup title, but dammit, Brazil, are you going to dominate women's soccer, too?

Isn't it enough that you've got Ronaldhino? Now we've got to contend with Marta as well? Look at her over there - she's a machine! And beating the U.S. 4-0? That's just overkill, man. C'mon.

And yeah, I know this is the first time Brazil will be competing for the title, but I know how it goes. You get a little taste of victory and suddenly you don't want to share any more. I've seen how you operate, Brazil, and I'm afraid this is only the beginning.

Just look at the kinds of stories I'm having to read now:

USA Falls, 4-0, Brazil in 2007 FIFA World Cup Semifinals

HANGZHOU, China (Sept. 27, 2007) – The U.S. Women’s National Team endured a nightmare first half in which it scored an own goal and saw midfielder Shannon Boxx ejected. The U.S. was forced to chase the rest of the game against the dynamic and talent
ed Brazilians who scored twice in both halves to defeat the USA, 4-0.

The first 20 minutes of the game saw clattering fouls from both teams, leading to free kicks in dangerous spots. Brazil forced some early pressure as well, hitting a free kick in the seventh minute that was deflected by U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry, off a Brazilian player and out of bounds.

The USA gifted Brazil its first goal in the 20th minute, coming off a corner kick that was spun to the near post. With no Brazilian players close to getting a touch on it, it skidded off the turf as midfielder Leslie Osborne dove to clear it, but instead inadvertently headed the ball into her own net from close range.

The second Brazil goal came seven minutes later on a piece of magical dribbling from Brazilian star Marta, who won a ball from defender Stephanie Lopez down the right flank. She dribbled inside and darted free, shooting between closing U.S. defenders Kate Markgraf and Cat Whitehill. Scurry got a hand on the ball, but couldn’t turn it outside the right post.

Then disaster struck in stoppage time of the first half.

Boxx had received an early yellow card in the 15th minute for upending a Brazilian player and was caught chasing a Brazilian counter attack in the 46th minute. Brazilian forward Cristiane bumped Boxx from behind, got tangled in her legs and both went down in a heap. In a harsh decision by referee Nicole Petignat, she whistled the foul, pulled out a second yellow, then red and sent Boxx to the locker room.

U.S. head coach Greg Ryan inserted Carli Lloyd for Lopez at halftime as the USA went to a 3-4-2 formation, but against the talented Brazilians and playing a woman down, the Americans faced a daunting task to get back in the game.

The end of the game belonged to Marta, who put on a dazzling display of dribbling and scored the capper in the 80th minute. She took a chipped pass from Renata Costa in the left side of the penalty box with her back to the goal, flicked the bouncing ball around substitute Tina Ellertson to the inside, ran around her to the outside, then cut inside to evade Whitehill before hitting her shot into the lower left corner. Once again Scurry got a glove to it, but couldn’t turn it away. The two goals gave Marta a tournament-leading seven in the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

It was the first loss in regulation time for the U.S. women in the past 51 games and first-ever loss under Ryan. The four-goal deficit also marked the biggest margin of defeat in U.S. history.

"Scored an own-goal" for God's sake! "Biggest margin of defeat in U.S. history!" And I can't say columns with headlines like "Brazil overwhelms U.S. with its talent" don't sting. Oh - they sting alright. I blame you for my pain, Brazil, you and your bionic soccer-monster.

I can only hope Germany is ready for what it must face.

Marta: "Raagh!! I'll swallow your soul!!!"

Friday, September 07, 2007

'A straight line is not the shortest distance between two points ...'

I was sad to read today that Madeleine L'Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time and many other novels, died yesterday at the age of 88.

L'Engles' Wrinkle was probably the first full-on science fiction book I ever read, or at least it's the earliest I can specifically remember (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court might have barely beaten it). And man, did it have an impact.

I must have been around 10 or so, and here was my first introduction to concepts like the space/time continuum, wormholes (though they weren't called that in the book) and planes of existence occupying different dimensions than our own. I must have read A Wrinkle in Time two or three times in a row, and then several more times over the years.

On top of the heavy dose of scientific theory, there was the compellingly creepy theme on the evils of conformity. Even now, there are two things that have stuck with me most from the book; Mrs Whatsit folding her apron to explain a space/time wormhole (the title's "wrinkle in time") and the frighteningly soulless and ordered planet where the kid's father is being held. When the heroes of Wrinkle first get there, the come upon a street lined with gray houses that's empty until, suddenly and with perfect precision, every door opens and a child comes out. Here's a taste of what weirded me out:

"As the skipping rope hit the pavement, so did the ball. As the rope curved over the head of the jumping child, the child with the ball caught the ball. Down came the ropes. Down came the balls. Over and over again. Up. Down. All in rhythm. All identical. Like the houses. Like the paths. Like the flowers."

Guh - it still gives me the creeps.

While looking for a link for background on A Wrinkle in Time, I realized I had completely forgotten about the religious overtones of the story. I'd have to re-read it (and its follow-ups, which are also good), but I remember it being kind of innocuous for the most part. It's definitely there, but it doesn't get in the way of a great story about free-thinking, relativity and the power of love. If you haven't read it, give it a try - you won't be sorry.

Thanks, Madeleine L'Engle - you introduced me to things I still think about today; and whenever I'm explaining a wormhole to someone, I still use your apron as an example.