Monday, June 14, 2010

Post USA/Amsterdam

All I can say after the U.S. match is that Robert Greene should extend his stay in South Africa indefinitely. The death threats I heard against him were made in good humor, but there was a little truth in them and if England has trouble in its next two group matches then that tone might change. The first threat came from a guy on our flight to Amsterdam, who said that Greene should probably be shot. Another woman--a sweet older lady we met in the Gatwick train station--summed everything up in typically understated British fashion: "Well, he could have done better." The British tabloids were rightfully brutal on him, and their headlines were hilarious ("God Save Our Greene," "Hand of Clod," and "Clown Keeper to be Axed" were some of my favorites. One story led by saying "It's not just BP who's having trouble plugging leaks--add England's calamity of a keeper Robert Greene to the list").

Obviously, the US benefited from Greene's mishap, but even in London people seemed to agree that we played well enough to deserve a tie. Altidore could just as easily have scored a couple of legitimate goals, and the game could have tipped the other way if not for Tim Howard's brilliance. As I mentioned, we watched the game from our hostel's bar, where the crowd was pretty pro-American. Still, we recruited an ex-middle linebacker from Kentucky named Chase to hang with us in case of any trouble. Chase was cool because he's the first person I've met from the South who's both passionate and knowledgable about soccer--Phillippe Bouchard would be a close exception, but he doesn't have Chase's thick Kentucky accent or Wikipedia-like on-call knowledge of the game. During the match, Chase would literally say things like, "Oh, that play was exactly like Henry's goal against Barcelona in the 2006 Champion's League quarterfinal," which is just impressive to me.

Anyway, I thought the US showed some streaks of brilliance, especially toward the end of the first half, when they kept England's key players from seeing the ball for long stretches of time. Now, it's a contest to see who can run up the score on Slovenia and Algeria the most (or who can avoid playing down to the level of their competition, which has historically been the US's Achilles' heel).

Meanwhile, I've been in Amsterdam, and our group is finally reunited as of yesterday, when we met up with Dan Holleb in the Gatwick airport. Amsterdam is one of the greenest cities on the planet--there's as much bike traffic as there is car traffic, and all of the public facilities and transportation is electric and very environmentally conscious. The city is built over a series of canals (think Venice), its streets are all askew and make no sense (think Boston), and the city itself has this very Las Vegas-like image of itself that seems geared toward tourists more than anything. Since the Netherlands were playing today, all of the streets were covered in orange and packed with people in Oranje garb--the fact that it's a Monday and a workday didn't seem to bother too many people. We watched the game in a bar just on the edge of a park, where there was a full-on drums and horn section camped out playing national team songs during the full 90 minutes.

The Dutch were playing Denmark, whom we assumed were their archrivals because there's only room for one small, blond, socialist country at the World Cup. After the Netherlands won the match 2-0 and looked great in doing so--Dutch football has a ton of style, it steals the best aspects of the German and Spanish game and nobody should be surprised if the Oranje sneak their way into the final rounds--everybody spilled out into the park to celebrate. The sun, the band, and the fact that the Dutch are level-headed fans who are able to share the streets with people from Denmark without causing any trouble--all of these things made this afternoon one of the best so far.

Tomorrow, we're headed to the Van Gogh museum and Rijksmuseum, which Dan guarantees are both well worth the price of admission. Photos, updates, and some more good stories are all coming soon.

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