Friday, August 29, 2008

Live blog: UEFA Super Cup, Manchester United v. Zenit St. Petersburg

And here we go! Live from my living room and big-screen TV, I'm here with my compatriots in broadcasting: a plate of homemade breakfast burritos in front of me, a cup of French Vanilla coffee spiked with amaretto liqeur to my right and a bottle of Mill Street Tankhouse Ale to my left. Can't think of a better way to watch soccer than this, except perhaps live at the stadium.

And the lineups:
Manchester United: In goal, Van der Sar. On defence, Neville, Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra. In the middle of the park, Fletcher, Scholes, Anderson and Nani. Up front, Rooney and Tevez.

Zenit St. Petersburg: Malafeev in goal, Anyukov, Krizanac, Puygrenier and Sirl on defence, Zyryanov, Tymoshchuk, Danny and Denisov in the midfield, and Dominguez and Pogrebnyak up front.
looking pretty good in the midfield so far. He's a Portuguese star. What is it with these Portuguese midfielders? Ronaldo, Nani, Danny, Deco, Miguel Veloso: does the country have a monopoly on good midfielders?

12: The game's degenerated into a bit of a midfield battle for the moment: not many chances to speak of.

16: Interesting tidbit from the Fox Soccer Channel commentators: Zenit is sponsored by Russian oil giant Gazprom, which is why they can afford such ridiculous transfer fees. That's the same Gazprom that current Russian president Dmitry Medvedev used to run, and KHL head Alexander Medvedev is the company's deputy chairman. A nice sponsor to have on your side if you happen to live in Russia.

17: And Zenit almost notch the game's first goal with a low cross into the box, but they can't finish.

18: Tevez lets fly from long range, but it's easily handled by the keeper.

23: A poor challenge from Anderson results in a 30-yard free kick awarded to Zenit.

24: Zenit's Argentine striker Alejandro Dominguez lets fly from the set piece with a great curving effort that just misses the top left corner.

28: Rooney makes a nice run forward and almost earns a corner, but is called for an offensive foul.

29: Patrice Evra makes a great run down the left flank, but his cross soars over the net and out of bounds.

30: Good play from Nani and Neville on the right leads to a cross in from Nani, but Malafeev collects it.

35: A great combination play between Rooney and Tevez sees Rooney alone in the box. He spins and fires, but Malafeev makes a tremendous save to preserve the shutout.

37: And Zenit respond! A terrific free kick from 35 yards out finds Krizanac sliding in towards the far post. He gets past Gary Neville, but Van der Sar makes a superb save.

42: Another good chance for Zenit: they're keeping the pressure on.

44: Goal, Zenit. A corner in is flicked on by Denisov to Pogrebnyak, who heads home from right on the goal line. 1-0, Zenit.

45: That's got to be demoralizing for United. Goals right before the half are always tough. They've been doing all right, but Zenit has created more chances lately and the goal was deserved.

46: And the whistle blows for halftime. Zenit 1, United 0.

Second half: And we're back! No changes for United, but Zenit's star striker Andrei Arshavin comes on for Dominguez. This may be his last game for them, as he's been linked with Tottenham and there's only 48 hours left in the transfer window

46: United will need to step up the offensive pressure if they hope to win. They did well early on, but fell down towards the end. They start off with a decent chance.

46: Excellent run on the counterattack for Arshavin, who's making an immediate impact. His cross almost finds an open striker, but Ferdinand does well to cut it out.

48: Another good ball in from Arshavin. Van der Sar comes off his line to make a good save.

52: A strong run from Rooney down the right. He lets fly from 20 yards out and had an open corner of the net, but puts it wide.

55: Tymoshcuk lets fly with a 25-yard blast right at Van der Sar, who can only punch it. The rebound is cleared, though.

57: Rooney and Nani combine for a chance, but they get their wires crossed and Nani's through ball wasn't anticipated by Rooney. Zenit clears.

59: Goal, Zenit. A tremendous run by Danny, who pics it up just inside the United half, runs through the entire defence, crosses Ferdinand up so badly that he's tripping over his own feet, and blasts a 12-yard shot past Van der Sar. That's why they paid all the money for him!

61: Substitutions for United: John O'Shea and Ji-Sung Park in, Anderson and Darren Fletcher out. Nani shifts over to the right flank to replace Fletcher, while Park takes the left and O'Shea takes Anderson's central role.

63: Zenit substition. Puygrenier off, Shirokov on.

63: Wow, they just flashed a possession stat on the screen and Zenit have had 59 per cent of the ball. That's ridiculously dominant.

64: Rooney makes a strong run left and earns a corner, but it's cleared easily.

65: Tevez does well to set up O'Shea, who lets fly from 20 yards. The keeper makes a great save, and then an even better one to deny Park on the rebound. Some good signs of life for United, though.

66: Tevez unleashes another blast that sails just high. He's been one of the best United players today.

69: Tevez with a great ball in for O'Shea. His shot is blocked, but they earn a corner.

70: The corner in is cleared, but it falls to Scholes at the top of the box. His shot sails high, though.

71: Arshavin makes another strong run down the left, but Ferdinand does well to jockey him, and his sharp-angled shot goes wide.

72: Substitution, Zenit. Krizanac off, Radimov on.

73: Goal, United. And the Red Devils are back in the game! A corner from Nani finds Rooney, who knocks it to O'Shea in the middle of the box. O'Shea flicks to Tevez at the far post, who brilliantly hesitates to draw the keeper and defenders instead of blasting a sharp-angle shot that would have been unlikely to succeed, and then drops the ball to Vidic in the middle, who drills it home from 10 yards out. That should set up a great finish.

76: A challenge by Radimov finds the ball and then Park, but he's called for a foul. The United free kick from 25 yards out finds no one, though.

77: Substitution, United. Gary Neville comes off, Wes Brown back on. Good to see Neville back in the side: he still isn't in peak form, though.

78: Great ball in for Park from Rooney, but Malafeev does well to come out and intercept. That could have been an equalizer if the keeper didn't read it so well. Park and O'Shea have both been great since coming on.

80: Danny makes a good run again for Zenit, but his shot from 25 yards out is blocked by Scholes and then cleared by the defence.

82: Park's cross in is contested by Rooney and Malafeev. Rooney does very well to win the ball, but can't get a shot before Malafeev recovers.

84: Rooney does very well, splitting the defence with a cross for Park. Malafeev dives out to punch it clear, though. He's been excellent all game long.

85: Nani lets fly from 20 yards out, and just missed the far corner. United are really putting on the pressure now, but they're running out of time.

86: A tremendous run from Wes Brown down the right and a superb cross, but O'Shea's header is tipped over the bar by Malafeev. The resulting corner is cleared.

87: An incredible counterattack from Zenit, as Danny and Arshavin bamboozle all four United defenders. Danny gets the ball back on the edge of the six-yard box, spins and fires wide from a sharp angle. That easily could have been 3-1.

89: Ferdinand breaks through, but he's offside by a couple inches.

89: United are really going for it now.

90: Incredible. Brown crosses into the centre, and it looks like Scholes got a head on it and knocked it in. It's clear from the replay that he spiked it volleyball-style with his hand, though. Unfortunately, the Hand of Scholes was more easily detected than the Hand of God, so the goal is disallowed, and Scholes is sent off with his second yellow of the day. Four minutes of stoppage time to go.

91: Apparently, I'm not the only one who thought that was a volleyball move. The Fox commentator: "That was a Misty May special." Perhaps Scholes was watching the Olympics?

92: An excellent chance for United off a corner, but Nani's ball in is slightly too far for Ferdinand.

94: One final chance for United, but O'Shea can't come up with the header. The final whistle blows, and Zenit become the first Russian club to ever win this trophy. They deserved the win, too, even though they were outshot 14-12 on the day: Zenit dominated the first two thirds of the game, and then they defended well to withstand the United storm near the end. Full credit to them. For United, there were plenty of hopeful signs, and things should get much better once they get their star midfielders back. It's impressive that they can still compete so well while missing so many superstars. They lacked intensity near the game's start, but they soon found it, which speaks well for their Premier League and Champions League prospects this year.

CIS issues: Trouble for Trinity players

This is interesting. Four Trinity Western University soccer players were apparently arrested in Oregon on Saturday and charged with criminal trespass, criminal mischief, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and minor in possession of alcohol, according to a report from the Corvallis Gazette-Times [I couldn't find the original story either using their website's search function or a Google search of their site, but their archives seem to be limited, so it may not be there anymore].

I was pointed to the story by Langley Times colleague Gary Ahuja, who does a great job of covering the Spartans. His story can be found here [The Burnaby NewsLeader, another Black Press paper that picked it up: the original Times version hasn't hit the web yet due to the newspaper's publishing schedule, but I'll add a link when it does].

The players were in Oregon to face Northwest Christian University on Friday morning, on the campus of Oregon State University. They'd originally been scheduled to take on the Oregon State Beavers, but a last-minute NCAA rule change [Scott Stewart,] meant that the match was no longer considered "foreign" for some odd reason, leaving the Beavers with too many scheduled pre-season games and forcing them to cancel the TWU match, substituting a scrimmage game with Northwest Christian for the Spartans (which Trinity won 3-0, according to their site). According to Howard Tsumura's story in the Vancouver Province, the incident that resulted in the charges occurred early Saturday morning, so it sounds like the Spartans were celebrating a little too raucously. The team then continued their tour with a 3-0 loss to Gonzaga, before returning home to beat the University of Calgary Dinos 1-0 on Tuesday and the Concordia University [Oregon] Cavaliers 3-1 on Wednesday [First two links are from Trinity's website, the third is a recap by Concordia Sports Information Director Jason Dormeyer]. None of the involved players appear to have taken part in any of the later games, which suggests that the suspensions were immediate.

This is probably pretty serious. The minor in possession of alcohol charge isn't a big deal in my mind, but criminal trespass, criminal mischief and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle in connection with alcohol all sound pretty bad. This may mean that these Spartans are gone for the year, which will make it difficult for TWU to defend its Canada West championship. The Spartans finished fifth in the country at last year's CIS Championships, but they may have a tough time getting out of a strong Canada West conference without these guys, and their departure may also affect the team's chemistry. It will be interesting to follow the team this season.

To make things worse for the involved Spartans, they go to Trinity, which essentially bans all students from drinking alcohol (to my understanding, it doesn't matter if you're of age or not or on campus or not, but if anyone knows otherwise, please correct me). Here's the relevant sections on university policies from the online student handbook:

All students are responsible to...Obey the law and conduct themselves as responsible citizens who contribute to the welfare of the greater community (Rom 13:1-7). Among other things, this precludes the use of marijuana and drugs for non-medical purposes and conduct that disrupts classes or the general operation of the University. It also includes demonstrating respect for the property of others and of the University. ... Refrain from practices that are contrary to biblical teachings. These include, but are not limited to, drunkenness (Eph 5:18), swearing or use of profane language (Eph 4:29, 5:4; Ja 3:1-12), harassment (John 13:34-35, Rom 12:9-21; Eph 4:31), all forms of dishonesty including cheating and stealing (Pro 12:22, Col 3:9, Eph 4:28), abortion (Ex. 20:13, Ps 139:13-16), involvement in the occult (Act 19:19, Gal 5:19), and viewing of pornography (1Co 6:12-20, Eph 4:17-24, 1Th 4:3-8, Rom 2:26-27, 1Ti 1:9-10). ... Utilize careful judgment in the exercise of personal freedom (Gal 5:16-6:10, Rom 12:1-15:13, 1Cor 8:9-13 and 13:1-13, Eph 4:17-6:18, Col 3:1-4:6, 1Thes 4:1-5:24). This entails the responsible use of time and material resources and the honest pursuit of knowledge, including regular attendance at classes, chapel services, and University events. It also requires that members of the community abstain from the use or possession of alcoholic beverages, tobacco in any form, other forms of substance abuse, all forms of gambling, and that members of the community maintain modest, inoffensive behaviour in personal relationships. Co-ed living arrangements are not suitable for unmarried Trinity Western students. Furthermore, because many contemporary forms of amusement are of questionable value or diminish one's moral sensitivities, members of the community are to use discernment in their choice of entertainment including television, movies, live productions, and social dancing. Furthermore, the University does not condone dancing at clubs where alcohol is liberally consumed, discretion in the choice of music is not exercised, and the overall atmosphere is questionable. ... Use of tobacco in any form or the consumption of alcohol can result in conduct accountability and/or probation.Alcohol use/possession on campus, aggressive behaviour towards another student, pranks that cause personal or University property damage, acts of vandalism and/or misrepresentation leading to community distrust can result in a short term suspension.

Yipes. Not the place I'd want to be caught drinking: it looks like if you're caught enjoying a perfectly legal drink off-campus, you get put on probation, but on-campus, you get a suspension. That's one of the reasons I decided not to go to TWU, even if it's in my backyard: I couldn't bear being sober for four years! Trinity's also one of the CIS institutions that really takes the model of student-athletes as campus leaders seriously, as is evident from this 2006-2007 student-athlete manual:

"The underlying concept is that the Spartan athletic program is an integral part
of higher education at Trinity Western University. The program offers participants and supporters a valuable experience that is essential to a liberal arts and science education. Ethical standards, quality, development of leadership and teamwork abilities, service orientation, the development of excellent physical skills, and a positive response to competition and challenges are basic goals of the program. ... Further, it is imperative that we recruit excellent student-athletes with proven athletic, academic and leadership skills who are willing to grow and learn, and are willing to commit to our philosophy.

Now, I've heard from a friend who played for the Trinity soccer team for years that these rules weren't often taken too seriously on road trips (at least by the athletes), which only makes sense: after all, it would be pretty hard for Trinity to entice quality athletes if they were restricted to those puritanical enough to give up alcohol, drugs and fun for five years. That might be even a bigger recruiting handicap than Queen's restrictions on entrance average! TWU consistently punches above its weight, though, so they're certainly getting the good athletes in. Unfortunately, with a high-profile incident like this that's a clear violation of their stated policies, it looks like the guys involved are in some deep trouble.

I'm guessing these guys will probably not suit up for the Spartans again this year, which to my mind is stupid based on the information I have so far. Yes, they screwed up, and maybe criminally so. However, that's pretty minor compared to what some U.S. college athletes have done (see for example this , this or this).

I'd urge Trinity to keep things in perspective. Yes, student-athletes as leaders is a great idea, and I have no problem with using athletes as role models. Not all athletes are qualified though, and not all of them deserve that pressure. Trying to ban university students from alcohol accomplishes little, and only means that they're more likely to binge and cause problems when they get a chance to drink. The Spartans are right to suspend these guys while they complete their own investigation and see how serious the charges are: however, once that's done, if the athletes haven't done anything too serious, they should be allowed to return to the field and again wear the Spartan colours. Trinity, I'd suggest that you refrain from throwing away four young men's careers and your own soccer season in the name of some silly code of ethics. There's plenty of biblical literature on second chances as well: this humble correspondent would suggest reading that instead of the fire-and-brimstone tripe.

[Cross-posted to The CIS Blog].

Update,12:20 P.M. ET: Greg Layson of Big Man On Campus managed to find some more information on this, which alleges that the four players were streaking inside the Oregon State football stadium and then went for a ride in a dump truck. Streaking isn't such a big deal, but stealing construction equipment is a bit more serious, especially when alcohol is involved. Here's the AP story Greg referenced.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

European Super Cup live blog coming up!

A quick note that I'll be live-blogging the European Super Cup match later today between Manchester United (2008 winners of the Champions League) and Zenit St. Petersburg (winners of the UEFA Cup). The match kicks off at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time (11:30 a.m. Pacific) in Monaco, and will be shown live on Fox Sports World. United stars Owen Hargreaves and Gary Neville are both expected to return to the lineup, which should be interesting to watch. United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is making his fourth Super Cup appearance and is going for his third win, a feat no manager has accomplished to date. Ferguson won the cup in 1983 with Aberdeen and in 1991 with United, but lost to Lazio with United in 1999. He's facing another coaching legend, though, Dick Advocaat of the Netherlands, so it should be a clash of titans. Hope you can join me here for it! Here's a collection of previews to prepare for the match:

- "United's returning stars help add to Super focus" [Daniel Taylor, The Guardian].
- "Two Winners Seeking More Silver [Graham Lister,].
- "Manchester United vs. Zenit St. Petersburg" [Victor Li, SoccerLens].
- "Fergie warns off England boss" (the reference is to Ferguson, not the singer) [Bill Thornton, The Daily Star].
- "Zenit Saint Petersburg v Manchester United Super Cup preview" [J, The Offside]
- "Man United takes on Zenit St. Petersburg in European Super Cup" [The Canadian Press].
- "Manchester United v Zenit St Petersburg : UEFA Supa Cup" [Man United Devils].

The GBU: Queen's versus Anderson

Breaking down tonight's men exhibition basketball match between Queen's and the Anderson University Ravens, a Division I NCAA school from Anderson, Indiana...

The score: 91-72, Anderson.

How I saw it: In person, at Bartlett Gym on the Queen's campus.

The Good:

- Mitch Leger: Leger starred for Queen's in their first exhibition match against Northeastern University on Monday night, pouring in 20 points and adding five rebounds in a close 69-59 defeat to a strong Huskies' squad. He delivered an even better performance tonight, notching 28 points (12-19 from the field, four of eight from the line) and ten rebounds (five offensive, five defensive). The 6'7'' Leger looks to be in strong form again this season, and he'll be a key component of this year's Gaels' team. He was named Player of the Game for his efforts.

- Rob Shaw: The Gaels' veteran big man was in fine form, grabbing seven rebounds (four on the offensive glass) and notching six points in only 16 minutes of playing time.

- Bernard Burgessen: The highly-touted Gaels' recruit from Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia showed plenty of promise against the Ravens. He played 13 minutes and only put up one point, but demonstrated plenty of defensive talent.

- The Gaels' second-half shooting: The Queen's squad couldn't hit a basket in the first half for love or money, going 11 for 35 from the field (31.4 per cent), but their shooting improved dramatically in the second half, where they were 18 for 32 from the field (56.3 per cent), pulling their overall field goal percentage up to 43.3 percent for the game.

- The Bad:

- Mike Russell:The 5'10'' guard from Indianapolis lit up his taller opponents for 26 points, 17 of which came in the first half. Interestingly, plenty of Russell's points came off drives and layups deep inside the paint against Queen's big men, unusual for a small guard. He was also five-for-eight from beyond the ark and five-for-six from the line. The Ravens pulled him later in the game once it was comfortably in hand, so he achieved his stellar totals in only 23 minutes of action.

- Anderson's shooting: The Ravens absolutely torched the Gaels in all shooting categories, beating them from the field (50.0 per cent to 43.3 per cent), from downtown (46.7 per cent to 31.6 per cent) and from the line (80.8 per cent to 44.4 per cent). They did a terrific job of executing the pick-and-roll to create stellar looks for their shooters, who often were wide open for three-point attempts. The Ravens were especially lights-out in the second half, where they shot 69.6 per cent from the field, 66.7 per cent from beyond the arc and 83.3 per cent from the charity stripe.

- Queen's secondary scoring: With Queen's basketball last year, Leger was almost guaranteed to put up 15 or more points every night and close to ten rebounds. As other teams usually had a star to match him, the Gaels' success or failure frequently depended on the efforts they got from their supporting cast. Those numbers may drop off this year, though, with the departures of Simon Mitchell and Travis Mitchell, two of the Gaels' better scorers from last year. Certainly, the Gaels' secondary cast didn't impress tonight: after Leger's 28 points, the team's next-highest scorer was Ondul, and he had to take 13 shots in 31 minutes to put up 13 points. No other Gael even hit double digits. Tonight's performance may not be entirely reflective of the coming season, as head coach Rob Smart spread the minutes around quite a bit due to it being an exhibition, but there is potential cause for concern about who will step up.

The Ugly:

- Queen's foul shooting and three-point percentages: The Gaels were pretty awful from beyond the arc, especially in the first half, where they only made one of their six three-point attempts (a 16.7 per cent success rate). They improved slightly in the second, sinking five of 13 attempts (a 38.5 per cent success rate), but their three-point percentage for the match was still a pretty awful 31.6. The chief culprit was guard Baris Ondul, who had a reasonably good match overall, but only sunk two of his eight shots from downtown. They also struggled at the line, sinking only eight of their 18 foul shots (44.4 per cent).

The size mismatch: Queen's had a huge advantage in size, as Anderson only had two players above 6'4'' (6'5'' forward Ryan Fultz and 6'6'' forward Andrew Jones), while the Gaels had six dressed players above that mark (the 6'7'' Leger and Patrick Beswick, the 6'6'' Shaw, Burgessen and Oliver Friesen (a new recruit from my hometown of Surrey, B.C.) and the 6'5'' Nick DiDonato). The Gaels didn't seem to use their size too effectively, however: they frequently scored off possessions in close, but took far too many shots from outside and wasted their height advantage. As Leger said afterwards, "Most of the time we got the ball in the post, good things happened." The Gaels did outrebound the Ravens 41-28, but it made little difference in the end.

- Rob Shaw's struggle for a rebound: Shaw had a good night overall, but his difficulty with one rebound seemed to represent the team's night overall. Shaw missed a layup, and went up for the rebound against a shorter Anderson forward. He couldn't pull it in, though, and only knocked the ball up in the air, where he went for it again. This repeated itself four times before he finally knocked the ball out of bounds, giving the Ravens possession.

Post-game reaction:

- Head coach Rob Smart:

- On the game overall:"We just didn't come out to play. ... We looked so good against Northeastern, so this is disappointing."

- On what went wrong:"We just had a bunch of guys not show up."

- On the team's defensive efforts: "We were awful defensively. If you let them score 90 points, you're in trouble. ... We can score and hit as many three-pointers as we want, but we can’t win without a solid defence."

- On Burgesson's showing: "Bernard went in and played some pretty good defence."

- On how he'd hoped these exhibition games would increase Queen's basketball credentials, perhaps paving the way for trips to the States or exhibitions against higher-profile programs in the future: "From a credentials point of view, it's pretty important. We played Northeastern pretty close, and Northeastern's a good Division I program. ... We climbed to the top of the hill, and fell halfway down [tonight].

- Forward Mitch Leger:

- On Anderson's team: "They ran their offence pretty well. I don't think they defended well, but you don't need to defend well when you score 90 points."

- On the importance of these exhibitions: "They're games that don't mean anything in the standings, but if they mean a lot to us, we'll do well in the season."

- On how CIS basketball in general and the Queen's program in particular compare to the NCAA: "Obviously, we're not going to beat the UNCs and Kansases of this world, but there's teams we can get close to."

Overall thoughts: It wasn't a dismal showing for Queen's, given that it's still early and was only an exhibition. There were a couple lessons to be learned, though. One key message to take away is shot selection: there were plenty of times when the Gaels could have pounded Anderson in the paint, but elected to go for the long jump shots instead, and that didn't work out very well. That leads to the second lesson, on the importance of in-game adjustments. The team did put up better numbers on offence in the second half, but they were still essentially trying the same shots: these ones just went in. They might have done better with a shift in the offensive focus. Obviously, that's tough when you're using a lot of rookies who haven't fully learned the offensive sets, but the Gaels will need to be adaptable once the season rolls around. They also need to find scoring depth: Leger is likely good for close to 20 points a night, but he can't win the game on his own. Finally, they need to find a way to defend against the high screens: time after time, an Anderson player would cut across the top of the key with the ball and kick it out to an open guard, who would bomb away from three-point range while the Queen's defender was still trapped behind the screen set by the first player. That can't happen if the Gaels are to have CIS success this year.

On tap: A 10:00 a.m. game in Ottawa Saturday against the University of South Alabama, and a home game Sunday night at 6:00 p.m. against the University of Buffalo.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The GBU: Montreal Impact - Real Esteli

A quick breakdown of the first match of the qualifying campaign for the CONCACAF Champions League: the Montreal Impact of the USL against Nicaraguan club Real Esteli, Thursday night in Montreal...

(A preview of the match can be found at

The Score: Montreal 1, Real Esteli 0

How I saw it: On TV, but buried on bold (formerly CBC Country Canada).

The Good:

- Matt Jordan: The Impact keeper looked somewhat shaky early on, but improved as the match possessed, and made several key saves. One of his best saves denied Esteli in stoppage time and preserved the win for the Impact.

- Joey Gjertsen: The former Whitecap midfielder had a solid game for the Impact, and notched the only goal of the contest. The Impact weren't overly impressive on the day, but Gjertsen did well, and his goal was all they needed in the end.

The Bad:

- The defending: The Impact sat back too far after they scored, which only works with rock-solid defending (and not always then). Their defence showed several cracks, though, including poorly-timed challenges (particularly one that possibly should have been a penalty, but was only called as a free kick), loose marking and generally sloppy play in their own end. They'll need to improve to get anywhere in this competition.

The Ugly:

- The game being on bold: Formerly known as CBC Country Canada, bold isn't exactly a top-viewed network or one with a strong sports reputation. It would have been much better off on the main network, which instead went with news and various drama programs. Curious decision by the CBC, as they showed most of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship games live (and that tournament, after all, was only a qualifier for this main competition). They did elect to carry this one on tape delay on the main network in the early hours of the morning, but it still shows that soccer doesn't have too high of a priority around here. I wonder if their decision would have changed if it was Toronto FC playing, instead of the "minor-league" Impact, who, after all, aren't from the centre of the Canadian media universe?

The GBU: Whitecaps - Portland

And, we're back! No, I wasn't shut down by the Chinese or the IOC over last week's post: instead, the horrible duty known as "work" intervened. I flew back to Kingston today, so I had to spend most of the last week finishing up stuff at the Langley Times and completing my football previews at Out of Left Field (I did all the Western Canadian CIS teams). Thus, it was tough to get anything up here, but I've been working on a couple of posts. Here's the first one: a GBU breakdown of last Friday's Vancouver Whitecaps match against the Portland Timbers.

The score: 2-1, Vancouver

How I saw it: In person.

The Good:

- Jay Nolly: Nolly has become somewhat of an omnipresent fixture on the "Good" side of the ledger in Whitecaps games this season, due to his strong play. He turned in yet another outstanding performance in goal Friday night, and was one of the best players on the field. His most impressive save came in the 65th minute, where he dived brilliantly to punch a close-range blast from Portland striker Bryan Jordan over the bar, saving a sure goal and the game in the process.

- Nicolas Addlery: Addlery's inclusion here is more surprising, but the seldom-effective Jamaican striker was in Usain Bolt-like levels of form Friday, notching a double to give the Whitecaps the victory. Normally, Addlery uses his speed to good advantage to create chances, but his finishing is often suspect. That wasn't the case this time, though, as he made no mistake, notching two goals off two good-but-not-great chances. His first strike came in the fourth minute of the match when he picked up the ball in the midfield, made a tremendous run forwards and drilled a blast into the top right corner from 20 yards out. He added another just before the half, using Bolteqsue speed to break through the defence and in alone on the keeper from 35 yards out and then brilliantly chipping the onrushing keeper. His goals on the night matched his total for the year, but few Whitecaps fans were complaining.

- The Whitecaps' back four: Each member of the defence turned in a great performance. Centre back Omar Jarun was his typically solid self, making some exceptional sliding tackles, while Wesley Charles, Jarun's compatriot in the middle of the park, won almost every aerial challenge. SFU product Luca Bellisomo continues to improve with every game, while Lyle Martin was effective both going forward on the flank and quickly tracking back. A superb defensive performance all around.

- The tribute to Dave Morris: It was nice to see the Whitecaps honour their former midfielder, who was a big part of the team for eight years and a fan favourite. The pre-game ceremony was well done, and showed that this club really cares about its players and the interests of its supporters.

The Bad:

- Lawrence Olum: The Portland midfielder's twelth-minute equalizer was a thing of beauty, as he volleyed a perfect flick-on from forward Chris Bagley into the back of the Whitecaps' net. If the colour of his jersey was different, this would undoubtably be in the good column, but as he scored for the opposition, he winds up here.

- Bryan Jordan: Funnily enough, there were two Jordans on the pitch Friday, and both were effective strikers who wore #26. Unlike Jason Jordan, though, Bryan plays for the Timbers. He showed he's plenty talented, and he was a threat throughout the contest.

The Ugly:

- The drive: It was great to see about 30 loud and proud Portland fans make the trip up to Swangard Stadium (at least a six-hour drive). Away supporters always make it a more interesting atmosphere, especially if they're loud: it tends to galvanize the home crowd to shout them down. I feel sorry for these guys, though: they saw a great game, but their team came up short, which probably made the trip back seem longer.

Related: Steve Ewen's excellent recap in the Vancouver Province.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Physician, heal thy organization

I was glad to hear that International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge decided to take a stand for the good of the Olympics. However, I wondered which of the many available targets he would shoot at. Would it be China's failure to live up to its promises of democratic reforms [Amnesty International]? Perhaps the arrest and sentencing to "re-education through labour" of those people who dared to apply for permits to protest [Deadspin]? The censorship of the Internet [MSNBC] sites available to journalists who had been promised open access? The massive cheat-at-all-costs campaign the Chinese have employed to win the gymnastic events with underage athletes[Juliet Macur, The New York Times]? The rounding-up [Jay Nordlinger, National Review Online] of Falun Gong practioners, disaffected minorities and Chinese writers who dare criticize the regime, probably to be shipped off to secret forced-labour camps [Geoffrey Clarfeld, National Post], where they might even have their organs harvested [The Canadian Press via CTV News]? The forced closure [Richard Spencer, The Telegraph] of air-quality monitoring units? The lingering effects of Andre Guelfi and the ISL types who bribed their way into control of the IOC's corridors of power [Andrew Jennings, All Sports magazine] ?
The felons, fascists, dictators and corrupt officials who currently fill Rogge's own organization [Andrew Jennings, Transparency In Sport]? Nope, all those are trivial. Rogge found a much more significant target than those minor annoyances: the post-race celebrations of Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt[National Post].

It's tough to describe just how out of whack Rogge's priorities are, but Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel makes a vailiant effort. "Jacques Rogge is so bought, so compromised, the president of the IOC doesn’t have the courage to criticize China for telling a decade of lies to land itself these Olympic Games," he writes. "All the promises made to get these Games — on Tibet, Darfur, pollution, worker safety, freedom of expression, dissident rights — turned out to be phony, perhaps as phony as the Chinese gymnasts’ birthdates Rogge was way too scared to investigate. One of the most powerful men in sports turned the world away from his complicity. Instead, he has flexed his muscles by unloading on a powerless sprinter from a small island nation. Rogge’s ripping of Usain Bolt’s supposed showboating in two of the most electrifying gold-medal performances of these Games has to be one of the most ill-timed and gutless acts in the modern history of the Olympics."

Wetzel is right on the money. Neate's already pointed out how ridiculous the criticisms of Bolt are [Out of Left Field], so I won't spend too much time on that. Globe and Mail reporter Matt Sekeres added a great point on Vancouver's Team 1040 radio station this morning, mentioning how Rogge used to be involved in sailing, a sport not exactly known for its excessive celebrations. Bolt's celebration was about the joy of winning and also about promoting himself, two concepts that have no place under Rogge's watch, where everything must be for the commercial expansion of the Games themselves instead of the welfare of the athletes who compete in them.

What really boggles my mind is that Rogge sees Bolt's celebrations as the most pressing and problematic issue around these Olympics and decides to take a firm stance against them, but completely ignores and sloughs off the more relevant and important issues listed above. It's the modern-day equivalent of Nero fiddling while Rome burned. Yes, there have been many great moments in these Olympics, but they have also revealed the true flaws of the Olympic movement to a wider audience, including the overzealous nationalism the Games have promoted in China, the lengths a totalitarian state will go to to win and the political gambits and manueverings the IOC heads have used to legitimize a state of repression in favour of expanding their moment's commercial appeal to a massive untapped market. Now is the time for Dr. Rogge, an orthopedic surgeon by profession, to investigate the internal cancers that plague his organization, rather than attempting to trim one of its toenails that probably isn't even too long. Physician, heal thy organization!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Brazil - Argentina live blog

Well, here we go! Apologies for the delay in getting the first posts up: the Internet gremlins seem to have returned with a vengeance, so I had to write these offline and fire them up later again.

First half:

0: The match is indeed being shown on TSN, if any Canadians out there are near a TV and want to watch it. Here's the starting lineups:

Renan in goal, Rafinha, Alex Silva, Marcelo and Breno at the back, Hernanes, Anderson, Lucas, Ronaldinho and Diego in midfield, Rafael Sorbis as the lone striker.

Argentina: Sergio Romero in goal, Ezequiel Garay, Luciano Monzon, Pablo Zabaleta and Nicolas Pareja at the back, Fernando Gago, Juan Riquelme, Angel Di Maria and Javier Mascherano in midfield, Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero up front.

5: Not much action to speak of so far: both sides seem to be feeling each other out cautiously.

8: The Brazilians create a few early chances, with some solid runs forward by Rafinha.

10: A good break for Argentina, and they manage to earn a corner: it's quickly cleared, though.

13: Argentina seems to be controlling a bit more of the possession, but they haven't had any great chances yet.

17: Brazil's starting to create a few chances of their own. They're still having trouble setting up through the midfield, but they're getting some solid runs down the flank.

20: And I'm not the only one with technical difficulties this morning: TSN just lost the commentary feed. You can still hear the crowd, but that's all.

25: The Argentines are finally starting to really put the pressure on, but that final ball just seems to keep eluding them.

28: Another counterattack by Brazil, but it comes to naught.

30: And the commentary's back: that makes it easier to tell which players are doing what.

31: Hernanes tracks back and makes a poor challenge right on the edge of the Brazilian box, and earns a yellow card for his trouble. That was inches away from being a penalty. The resulting free kick is initially cleared, fired back in, and then cleared again.

33: Argentina retains possession, and they set up a great run down the left-hand side. The cross leaves much to be desired though, as it's nowhere close to any of the attacking players.

34: Brazil on the counterattack yet again. Marcelo makes the long run forward from defence and sends in a great cross, but it's headed wide. The Brazilians are doing a great job of getting their defence involved in the attack, one of their traditional strengths. They're still having more success out wide as well, as Mascherano and the rest of the Argentine midfield are clogging up the middle effectively.

35: And probably Argentina's best chance so far, as Messi steals the ball from Breno and breaks in towards the goal. However, he loses the ball to the last defender and it results in nothing.

38: Things have settled down a bit after that flurry of chances: both sides seem to be taking it a bit more defensively now.

41: Messi continues his strong play, breaking in again and forcing Renan into a diving save.

44: The Argentines have picked up the pressure a bit. They take it out wide left and send a cross in for Pablo Zabaleta, who snuck forward from his defensive position and created a quality chance. However, the quality of the cross was again suspect, and it all went for naught.

45: And we're at the half. Argentina's controlling the run of play, and they've had the better chances so far, but Brazil may prove deadly on the counter. Brazil's doing a great job of attacking as an 11-man unit, and that often creates a lot of chances.

Second half:

46: And we're back underway. No halftime changes to report. Update from the other semi-final: Nigeria beat Belgium 4-1. You'd have to think that either Brazil or Argentina can easily handle Nigeria in the final, but upsets do happen, and more often in Olympic soccer than with full national teams.

48: Ronaldinho creates a chance, but he loses the ball.

51: A great counterattack by Argentina this time, as Sergio Aguero (the star of the U-20 World Cup in Canada two summers ago) makes a break and beats one defender, but loses the ball to the second.

53: Goal, Argentina. A great break by Argentina finds Angel Di Maria down the left side, and he sends a bullet cross in that Aguero deflects into the net with his chest for his first goal of the tournament. Brazil will have to pull out of their defensive stance and put pressure on to try and equalize.

55: And Brazil responds: a great chance for Rafael Sorbis, who beats Sergio Romero but drills it off the post.

56: The announcer informs us that Aguero's goal is the first one Brazil has conceded all tournament. They've filled the net at the other end, though, racking up 11 goals, so don't count them out yet.

57: Another solid Brazilian chance, but it amounts to nothing.

58: Argentine free kick on the edge of the box, but they only tap it a short distance to Messi, and he can't do anything with it.

58: Goal, Argentina. Mascherano breaks free down the right and sends a great ball in, and Aguero taps home his second from six yards out. Argentina haven't had that many superb chances, but they've made the most of them, and they're now in the driver's seat. Manager Dunga will have to throw out the defensive playbook and return to the traditional Brazilian attacking still.

60: Messi creates another chance, but some strong defending earns Brazil a goal kick.

61: Double substitution: Alexandre Pato in for Rafael Sobis, and Thiago Neves in for Hernanes.

62: Another interesting comment from the announcer, who seems to be a BBC type: apparently Brazil have never won Olympic gold. Well, Canada won back in 1904, so forget those World Cups: clearly Canada's the better soccer power!

65: A great chance for the Brazilians, but their luck comes up rotten again. A 25-yard free kick from Ronaldinho is typically brilliant and beats the keeper, but rings off the post. Pato, another star of that U-20 World Cup who I saw in person against Poland in Montreal, makes no mistake on firing home the rebound, but it's rightly called back, as he was clearly offside.

67: And Manchester United's Anderson gets booked for a clumsy challenge: he overran the ball and collided with an Argentine, who went down as if he'd just been machine-gunned.

68: Brazil's putting on the pressure now. You have to feel for them: the quality chances have been pretty even, but they've hit the post twice and Argentina hasn't. That's all the difference at this point.

71: Messi takes the ball and runs straight at four defenders. He beats three of them, but loses the ball to the fourth, though. That was inspired play, but poor decision-making.

71: Substitution, Brazil: Diego out, Jo in.

73: And Messi shows that he's got the skills to compete in diving at these games as well, comically falling to the ground outside the box and drawing a free kick. Nothing comes of it though.

75: Aguero proves that he could be Messi's partner in synchronized diivng, flopping to the ground in the box and earning a penalty kick after some mild contact from Rafinha. A pretty ridiculous call: flopping like that shouldn't be rewarded. Rafinha gets booked as well.

76: Goal, Argentina. Riquelme takes the penalty and drills it right down the middle, beating Renan, who dives to the side. It will be tough for Brazil to claw their way back now.

81: And Lucas gets sent off for a boot to the back of his Liverpool teammate Mascherano. That may make things awkward during training!

84: Thiago Neves gets a foot in on Mascherano, who falls to the ground theatrically as if someone pulled the rug out from under him. Maybe he's trying to beat out Messi and Aguero for a spot on that synchronized diving team? Neves gets a straight red, which is a ridiculous overreaction to that challenge: a yellow may have been deserved, but there's no way in Hades a straight red was.

88: Lovely cross in from Riquelme, and it's played on to Messi in space. He hesitates too long, though, and Rafinha slides in to block the shot. Corner to Argentina, but they don't create anything off of it.

90: Substitution, Argentina. Riquelme off, Jose Sosa on. Only one minute of extra time added, which seems low, but it won't have made much of a difference in any case.

91: And there's the final whistle. A deserved win for Argentina, but the score probably should have been closer with a bit more luck for Brazil. A good match, but a tough loss for their side. Argentina will go on to defend their gold medal from 2004 against the 1996 champions, Nigeria, while Brazil will play Belgium for bronze.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Brazil - Argentina live blog coming up!

A quick note that I'll be live-blogging tomorrow morning's men's Olympic soccer semifinal between Brazil and Argentina. It should be a great clash of South American superstars, with Ronaldinho and Lionel Messi going head-to-head. Here's an excellent preview of both semifinals (the other, earlier one features Belgium and Nigeria) from ESPN Soccernet's Jeff Carlisle. The Brazil-Argentina match starts at 9 a.m. ET (6 a.m. Pacific). It may be on TSN: they say they're showing one of the semifinals, but don't mention which one. In any case, it will certainly be on CBC's digital streaming coverage (, and it will be here as well, gremlins permitting.

The GBU: Whitecaps vs. Puerto Rico

Sunday Night Lights

Photo: The Vancouver Whitecaps take on the Puerto Rico Islanders Sunday night under the lights at Burnaby's Swangard Stadium. The match ended 0-0. [Andrew Bucholtz photo].

Breaking down yesterday night's match for USL supremacy, featuring the second-place Vancouver Whitecaps and the top-of-the-league Puerto Rico Islanders...

The score: 0-0

How I saw it: In person

The Good:

-Jay Nolly: The Whitecaps' keeper continued his outstanding season with another stellar performance, including several diving saves, key interceptions of crosses and corner kicks, and a couple of crucial stops on potential breakaways.

-Alfredo Valente: Valente had a solid game on the wing for the Whitecaps, creating several quality chances with his speed and crossing ability. His crosses weren't always exactly on the mark, but on balance, he turned in a strong performance.

-Luca Bellisomo: The SFU product came on for Lyle Martin in the 63rd minute and demonstrated again that he's a capable wingback. He appeared more composed than on the previous occasions when I'd seen him play, which was good to see. He did a nice job of shutting down the speedy Islanders' wingers, and won a lot of balls in the air.

-The crowd: It was great to see 4,563 people take the time to come out to a Caps' game on a rainy Sunday night. That's normally a pretty good attendance for a Friday or Saturday game, and it's not far from Swangard Stadium's capacity of 5,288. Of course, it probably helped that the Lions had a bye week, as the Whitecaps were the only game in town this weekend. Still, there were a lot of people there, and those who came were loud and passionate, which is also good to see.

The Bad:

-Nigel Henry: The tall Islanders' defender turned in a great performance, but as per the rules of The GBU, his effort gets filed here because it was for the wrong team. Henry did an exceptional job of winning balls in the air, thwarting the Whitecaps' strategy of attacking via crosses from the flanks. He also neutralized the ever-dangerous Sebrango for much of the match, not an easy feat.

-Josh Hansen: The ex-Whitecap midfielder made a strong showing in his return to Swangard, controlling the play in the middle of the park and sending several good balls through for the Islanders' swift strikers.

-Bill Gaudette The Islanders' keeper was effective all night, and proved especially adept at intercepting aerial crosses, a prominent feature of the Whitecaps' attack. He also made several key diving saves to preserve the draw for his side.

The Ugly:

-Eduardo Sebrango's sending off: The Whitecaps' star Cuban striker, who's well in front in the team scoring race with 10 goals (tied for second in the whole USL and eight goals better than his nearest teammate), actually had a decent game on balance. He was the most dangerous man on the pitch for much of the day, but his finishing was a little off. However, what was really ugly was his red card late in the match. He thought the Whitecaps had scored in the 79th minute after defender Omar Jarun buried a rebound that was jarred loose after a collision with Puerto Rico keeper Bill Gaudette, but they were instead called for an offensive foul. Somehow, Sebrango was shown a yellow card, and he then earned a second yellow for dissent and was sent off.

It was tough to tell from the stands exactly what happened. I thought at first it was Sebrango who committed the foul and that was what gave him the first yellow, but Steve Ewen's game story [The Province] indicates that it was Jarun. In that case, it doesn't seem clear what the first yellow to Sebrango was for, and Ewen indicates that the dissent that earned him the second yellow also seemed pretty minimal. However, that's tough to tell without being right there, as you can't tell from the press box if he said anything objectionable. What's clear is that you should shut up as soon as you get a yellow, something most soccer players realize. Sebrango's second booking left the Whitecaps to play the last 15 minutes or so with only 10 players. It may have been a bad call by the ref, or it may have been a selfish decision from Sebrango to mouth off after a yellow. Either way, it cost the team a chance at getting all three points.

-Martin Nash's set pieces: Whitecaps' midfielder Nash (the brother of new Whitecaps' co-owner Steve) had a decent game overall, and was effective at both making key tackles defensively and sending through balls to the Vancouver wingers and strikers. However, his set-piece efforts, usually one of the best parts of his game, were a bit off: many of his corners soared clear over the box, while his free kicks found only defenders. Towards the end, Valente took over the set-piece duties. Nash will surely regain his set-piece form down the road, but it wasn't there Sunday night.

-NAIA references:: The Whitecaps' game-day program, which overall is a fine piece of work (and free too, unlike most sports programs these days), has one rather ugly error. It lists Bellisomo's last school as Simon Fraser (NAIA). Yes, the Clan used to play NAIA soccer, and they still are in the NAIA in some sports, but they've been playing CIS soccer since 2002. As a CIS guy, I'd like to see the league get a bit of credit for the guys that have come through its ranks.

The Verdict: Overall, it was a pretty good match, and surprisingly offensive for a 0-0 draw. There was plenty of end-to-end action, and both sides were clearly going for goals: it was only some spectacular defence and goalkeeping that kept them in it. It was billed as a clash between two of the USL's best franchises, and the on-pitch action lived up to that, even if the scoreboard didn't show it.

On Tap: The Whitecaps travel to Tukwila, Washington Wednesday night to play old rivals in the Seattle Sounders. It will be the Whitecaps' first game at the Starfire Sports Complex, where the USL Sounders are now based (due to the MLS Sounders taking over Qwest Field next season). They won't have any rest, either: Friday night, they're back in Vancouver to host the Portland Timbers. I'll be at Friday night's match, which will also be shown live on Fox Soccer Channel, and I should have a game report up Saturday.

Friday, August 15, 2008

There is no joy in Canada, for Stubby has flied out

What a way to go. The Canadians came so close to beating the U.S. in today's Olympic baseball game, and held a 4-0 lead at one point. In the end, they lose 5-4 after some bad pitching and a couple of poor fielding plays. The brutal thing was how it ended, though, with Canadian legend Stubby Clapp at the plate. Clapp, the man who had to fight the Astros just to get here, the veteran whose key hitting and fielding inspired many Canadian baseball fans, playing in possibly one of the last games of his career. Once more, Canada was counting on him to get the job done after the rest of their bats came up short, and this time, he couldn't come through to save the day. You know his spirit was willing, but sometimes the aging bodies just can't do what you need them to.

It was so close to being a tremendous comeback, though. Matt Rogelsted flied out on the first at-bat of the night, but catcher Chris Robinson singled to right, and Brett Lawrie was brought in as a quicker pinch-runner. Jimmy VanOstrand pinch-hit for Adam Stern and struck out, though, bringing up Clapp with two out. Clapp battled hard, taking two balls and a strike before cranking a massive drive to right field. For a moment, it looked like Canada would pull out a miraculous victory, as Lawrie got a great jump and looked sure to score. However, the ball hooked just foul. Clapp fouled off one more pitch, but then hit an easy pop-up fly to short. It certainly wasn't his fault that Canada lost, as he had a decent game (he hit 1 for 5 with a run, and recorded two put-outs and four assists in the field). Just, this time around, Canada couldn't count on Clapp to bail them out.

This loss doesn't completely knock the Canadians out, but they're now 1-3, and they're going to have a tough time getting back in it. It's too bad, especially considering how close most of the games have been. Still, miracles do sometimes happen. For Richard (Stubby) Clapp and all the Canadians who admire him, it would have been nicer if the miracle had happened today. Our world clearly needs more narrativium, as this time around, harsh reality ruined what would have been a great storybook ending.

Related: Rob Pettapiece has all the game details in a great live blog over at Out of Left Field.

The GBU: Canada - United States soccer

Photo: Natasha Kai celebrates her game-winning goal against Canada with teammate Amy Rodriguez (left). [Photo from the New York Daily News].

I've already posted a more thorough recap of this morning's Canada-U.S. Olympic soccer match over at Out of Left Field, but I figured I'd do a quick GBU breakdown here.

The Score: United States 2, Canada 1 in extra time.

How I Saw It: On the tube.

The Good:

-Karina LeBlanc: LeBlanc has been the backup keeper to Erin McLeod for quite some time now, but she showed no rust when called upon after McLeod was injured early on. LeBlanc made several tremendous saves for Canada, including at least two on breakaways and one diving one-handed stop right in front of the goal line. Given the amount of quality chances the Americans had, LeBlanc was a huge reason that the Canadians were even able to take the game to extra time. She only allowed one goal, which came on a six-yard Natasha Kai header that was unstoppable by any mortal keeper.

-Christine Sinclair: Canada's captain showed her considerable leadership skills, single-handedly pulling the red-and-white squad back into the game by manufacturing a stunning goal out of an empty void larger than my stomach when I haven't eaten in a couple days. Her goal came off the first shot and the first chance Canada had, and there really wasn't anything there: she had a live-ball shot at the net from about 25 yards out, but nine times out of 10 those amount to nothing. Sinclair got all of it including the remainder, though, and unleashed an absolute rocket that U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo could only wave goodbye at. Without her goal, this wouldn't have been much of a contest.

The Bad:

-Natasha Kai: Note that this is not bad from an objective standpoint, but bad from a Canadian fan's perspective. As such, Kai belongs here for her amazing play. She came off the bench at the start of the extra time, and promptly displayed some blinding speed to sneak through the Canadian defence and head home the winning goal. That's a more sudden impact than anything Dirty Harry appeared in. Besides, the dance [New York Daily News] she performed as a goal celebration was also pretty impressive (and according to the awesome Dan Steinberg, it's just one of her many choreographed celebrations [DC Sports Bog, or Beijing Sports Smog as it's known these days]). Now I know what Tunison sees in her...

-Amy Rodriguez: Similar to Kai, Rodriguez turned in a performance that was good from every standpoint except a Canadian one. Playing as the lone American striker for most of the match, Rodriguez was a constant threat. Particularly impressive was where she got trapped deep in the Canadian zone, but raced back to steal the ball from a lackadaisical Candace Chapman before Chapman even knew she was there, creating a quality American scoring chance.

The Ugly:

-The thunderstorm: The stupid storm not only soaked the pitch and postponed the match for over an hour, it also may have cost the Canadians the match. The humidity it created was likely a primary factor in why the Canadians appeared so out of gas at the end of the match. Sure, humidity affects both sides, but the Americans scored right at the start of extra time off a great play by a sub: from there on in, they only had to defend, which takes far less energy. This combined with the next entry to really hurt the Canadians.

-The Canadian injuries: Losing Erin McLeod early on was a big blow. As previously mentioned, Karina LeBlanc did a fantastic job in relief and McLeod couldn't have stopped Kai's goal, but that forced Even Pellerud to spend one of his three substitutions early on on a player who didn't have to do a lot of running. Things got worse later on, when he had to bring off Melissa Tancredi in favour of Brittany Timko at halftime (I'm assuming that she re-aggravated her earlier injury and wasn't pulled due to performance), and then had to bring Timko off after she got injured towards the end of the game. Thus, all three of his subs had to be used to cover injuries, which makes it difficult to adjust tactics that aren't working or bring in fresh legs to try and generate some offense. At the end, all but one Canadian outfield player (the spot filled by Tancredi/Timko/Jonelle Filigno) had played a full 120 minutes. In the heat and humidity just after a thunderstorm, plus the natural smog and pollution levels in China, it's no wonder that the Canadians ran out of energy at the end.

-The Canadian tactics: All of the above entries in the last two categories were problems, but not as significant as Pellerud's refusal to adapt his system when it was clear that it wasn't working. Canada spent most of the match sending long balls forward up the middle, losing the aerial battles for said long balls to the American central defenders, and then chasing back to try and regroup. There wasn't enough lateral support between the three strikers or enough vertical support between the forwards and the midfielders. It would have made much more sense to test the American defence on the ground or at the flanks after the long balls failed, but both areas were only lightly probed. In the second half, Pellerud switched from a 3-4-3 to a 3-5-2 with the addition of Timko, but he refused to attack on the wings and had both strikers (Sinclair and Kara Lang) play in a straight line in the middle of the park. If you run into a brick wall, don't keep bashing your head against it.

Angela Hucles' finishing: This entry is actually a positive for the Canadians, but it fits better under "Ugly" than "Good". Hucles did score the first goal of the game for the Americans, but she missed at least three other wide-open chances. I'm guessing there's a good reason that she's a midfielder and not a striker. As the CBC's Jason de Vos said, "Hucles has had four glorious opportunities today and has only managed to score on one of them."

Scott Russell's knowledge of Canadian soccer history:
I don't want to bash Russell too hard, because it must be incredibly difficult to serve as a multi-sport studio host and be expected to know everything about every sport. With that said, one of his halftime comments was just embarrassing for the state of Canadian women's soccer knowledge in this country. The good part was that he found a cool stat: today's match was apparently Christine Sinclair's 131th cap, which tied her for the all-time lead. The bad part was that he said it tied her with "Charmaine Cooper." That's Charmaine Hooper, Scott, and you really should know who she is if you're talking about Canadian women's soccer.

- My recap of the game [Out of Left Field].
- Jeff Blair's terrific game story, which includes the revelation that Kai's dance was supposedly based on an Eddie Murphy sketch about an ice-cream truck [The Globe and Mail].
- Lindsey Dolich has a good piece on the match, complete with ratings for the American players [ESPN Soccernet].

Canada - U.S. Olympic soccer live blog

Well, here we are with the promised Canada – U.S. quarterfinal liveblog. Apologies for the late posting of the first few entries: the technical gremlins from last time returned to eat my Internet connection, so I had to write the first 20 minutes or so offline and post it once I got the connection working.

First half:

0: It looks like a miserable day out in Shanghai: the rain is pouring down and the pitch appears rather a bloody mess. Some notes on formations from the official start list: it looks like the U.S. has opted to play defensive with a 4-5-1, while Canada counters with a 3-4-3. The lone American striker is Amy Rodriguez, who's just 21. Here's the starting lineups:

U.S.: Hope Solo in goal, Heather Mitts, Christie Rampone (wearing the captain's armband), Kate Markgraf and Lori Chalupny on defence, Lindsay Tarpley, Shannon Boxx, Heather O'Reilly, Carli Lloyd and Angela Hucles in midfield, and Amy Rodriguez up front.

Canada: Erin McLeod in the net, with Emily Zurrer, Candace Chapman and Martina Franko starting on defence, Claire Rustad, Sophie Schmidt, Rhian Wilkinson and Diana Matheson in midfield, and Christine Sinclair, Kara Lang and Melissa Tancredi up front.

3: Not a great start for Canada: the U.S. has them under pressure right off the bat. It looks like the Americans are determined to control possession the way the Swedes did, and the Canadians are letting them win the midfield battle so far.

7: A tremendous chance for American midfielder Angela Hucles from 12 yards out, but she fires over the net. A good slide to get in the way by Canadian defender Emily Zurrer perhaps forced the error.

10: The U.S. continues to dominate both the possession and the scoring chances. Not a great start from Canada so far.

12: Goal, U.S. And the Americans are rewarded for their offensive pressure with the first goal of the match. Hucles makes up for her earlier miss and notches this one from close range. Perhaps even more worrying for the Canadians than falling behind is what looks like a bad injury to goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who seems to have collided with Hucles and gotten the worst of it.

19: The rain is really pouring down now, and it probably matches the mood of the Canadians. McLeod is taken off and replaced by Karina LeBlanc. LeBlanc is a good keeper, but McLeod had an outstanding tournament to this point and has been one of the key core group of Canadian stars for quite some time: losing her will hurt.

21: And the thunder and lightning starts, so Swedish referee Jenny Palmqvist calls the players off the pitch. Looks like it will probably be a considerable delay. That's the funny thing about these widely spread venues: CBC's flashed back to their main studio in Bejing, where it looks like an absolutely gorgeous day: quite a contrast from the thunderstorm in Shanghai. In any case, the game's delayed, and that's probably a good call by the referee: the pitch conditions look atrocious, and you don't ever want to play a match around lightning. CBC's gone over to baseball coverage for the moment, but it sounds like they'll return when the soccer match begins again. The internet gremlins seem to be hibernating for the moment, so I'll keep things updated whenever anything happens in the soccer match.

Rain delay update #1: It's now 4:10 a.m. PT (7:10 a.m. ET), so the game's been delayed for almost an hour now, and there's no signs of anything changing yet. CBC's shifted over to track, while TSN's taken the baseball broadcast.

In a weird way, this delay might actually prove a blessing for the Canadians. They looked outclassed in the first 20 minutes: now's an ideal time for them to regroup, figure out what went wrong and get motivated to right it when the game resumes. The other thing is playing from a goal down might motivate them to employ a more possession-oriented offensive style, which many Canadian observers have been calling for (as I pointed out in my Out of Left Field preview), instead of waiting for counterattack opportunities. A long delay probably isn't as good for Canada, though: it's hard to keep that motivation and fire over a longer stretch of time. Let's hope things get going again soon.

Rain delay update #2: CBC anchor Scott Russell just announced that they've heard that the match is supposed to resume at 8:00 a.m. ET (5:00 a.m. PT). Let's hope so. It sounds like CBC's planning to return to soccer coverage: what will be interesting to watch is if they show the whole game, as their regular Olympic morning show ends at 9 a.m. ET and there's no way this match will be done by then. Let's hope they don't pull a Heidi or a Preakness pre-race on this country's soccer fans. In the meanwhile, there's a pretty good baseball game going on on TSN: Canada's trailing South Korea 1-0 in the seventh. I'm just waiting for Langley product Brett Lawrie to save the day with a trademark mammoth home run.

Rain delay update #3: And we're back, right at 5 a.m. PT as promised. Looks like the rain has largely stopped, but CBC announcer Nigel Reed has some concerns about the pitch. Commentator Jason de Vos thinks it will be all right though due to the advanced drainage system, saying, "You can hardly tell that it's wet."

23: Martina Franko makes a great run forward into the American 18-yard box, but some skillful defending from Markgraf sees a free kick for the Americans.

24: Update on McLeod: She's apparently sustained a knee injury, which is never good. Reed has an interesting piece of trivia, though: LeBlanc is one of only four players still on the Canadian team who were there for the last win over the U.S. back in 2001. I'm guessing the others are Randee Hermus, Martina Franko and possibly Amy Walsh.

25: Another good chance for the Americans after they break into the box, but Franko defends well and gives LeBlanc enough time to make the save.

27: Goal, Canada. Team captain Christine Sinclair scores with a long-range blast from 20 yards out. Now that's leading by example! That's her 95th goal for Canada, and as Reed commented, "Has she ever scored a more important one?" Sinclair got absolutely all of that one: that's one of the few long goals that you can't blame a keeper for allowing. It's the Canadians' first shot of the game and off their first real chance. The U.S. has dominated the play, but at the end of the day, only the scoreboard matters, and that's all level again.

33: A great ball through for Angela Huclus, who's wide open in the Canadian box, but can only manage to send a weak effort wide. Huclus hasn't had much of a finishing touch today despite her goal: as de Vos commented, "She should have had a hat trick by now."

36: The lone American striker, Amy Rodriguez, makes her presence felt with a long run into the Canadian 18-yard box and a determined battle for the ball. Franko shows the benefits of veteran experience, though, defending well and forcing Rodriguez to concede a free kick.

40: It's a little concerning that the main Canadian attack still seems to be the long-ball strategy: that doesn't often work against a team like the U.S. I'd like to see more of a midfield buildup to each attack and better use of the flanks: the main offensive thrust seeems to be through the middle at the moment, and the American central defenders are handling that well.

45: Canada's still trying to go up the middle through the air, and the American central defenders are more than up to stopping them. Wide strikers Kara Lang and Christine Sinclair aren't close enough to Melissa Tancredi in the middle, so most of the time, it's one against two, which the offence doesn't often win.

47: And, after two-and-a-half hours, we're finally at the half. It's a good match so far, made much better by that out-of-nowhere blast from Sinclair to equalize. For halftime reading, I recommend Globe writer Jeff Blair's blog post about his trip to the stadium, the epic nature of this rainstorm and the difficulties involved in translating baseball pitches.

Halftime: Well, Canadian women's soccer obviously isn't Scott Russell's first sport: he said that Sinclair's 130th cap tied her with Charmaine Cooper for the all-time Canadian lead. Uh, that would be Charmaine Hooper, only one of the most famous and controversial Canadian women's athletes. Not to bash Russell too much: he usually does a good job of covering a variety of different sports, and that was an interesting piece of trivia that I didn't know. It just would have been better if he'd gotten the name right.

Second half:

45: An interesting halftime substitution from Canadian manager Even Pellerud. He brings Brittany Timko on for Melissa Tancredi. Timko has excelled as a forward before, winning the Golden Boot at the 2004 U-19 World Championships, but she's been used as a midfielder more frequently lately. If she's coming into the midfield, that gives Canada a 3-5-2 formation, which suggests that they might be trying for more of a possession game.

50: Sinclair makes a good run, but is felled by a tackle 25 yards out. No free kick awarded, though. Reed and de Vos say Timko's playing wide left in the midfield, while Kara Lang has moved up to the lone striker role and Sinclair's playing right behind her, making this actually more of a 3-5-1-1.

52: The U.S. is again putting on some pressure. Good defending by the Canadians, especially Zurrer, who does well to clear a dangerous ball from the area. At the other end, Sinclair makes a run and lets fly from about 25 yards out, the distance at which she scored last time, but her shot is blocked by a sliding defender.

55: Canada seems to be utilizing the flanks more effectively now. Timko made a great run wide left to sneak behind the defence and Sinclair found her with a beautiful chip. It came to nothing in the end, but it's a promising side.

57: Rhian Wilkinson concedes a free kick to the Americans just outside the left side of the Canadian 18-yard box. Hucles takes it short and sets up Carli Lloyd, who fires wide from a sharp angle.

59: A great American cross finds midfielder Lindsay Tarpley in the Canadian box, right near the far post, but she's in too close to get a shot off. Tarpley finds Rodriguez in front, and her shot deflects high off Candace Chapman for an American corner. Sinclair makes a great play to head the resulting corner clear, though.

61: Another solid point from de Vos, as he points out that the pressure is now on the U.S. with the game still tied this late. A loss for Canada is expected: a loss for the Americans would be catastrophic.

62: Martina Franko concedes another corner to the U.S. after sliding to block a cross. The corner's cleared, but the Canadians will have to be careful: the U.S. can be deadly from set pieces.

63: Amy Rodriguez shows her speed, racing back to steal a ball from Candace Chapman deep in the Canadian end. The Canadian defence can't afford to be casual with the ball when she's around. That almost was catastrophic, as the Americans created a good chance off the steal.

64: The U.S. is really putting the pressure on now, and Canada's creating few chances of their own. Rodriguez is making things very difficult for the Canadian defenders. Franko made a crucial tackle on her from behind, but conceded another corner.

65: A great ball in from Hucles to Shannon Boxx off the corner, but Boxx heads wide of the far post from six yards out. That easily could have been a goal. Canada is really on the defensive now.

67: One really impressive thing about this American attack is how much pressure they're putting on with only a few players. They only have the one striker on the field in Rodriguez, and only a couple of midfielders are going all the way forward to support her. The defence is hanging back to guard against the possibilities of counter-attacks. Canada won't be able to catch them napping, so they may need to rely on a possession approach instead of just the long ball.

69: Boxx finds Rodriguez in the 18-yard-box, and she makes a great play to set up Tarpley, who is undefended about eight yards out from the right Canadian post. However, Tarpley foolishly decides to pass instead of going for goal, and the Canadians clear.

70: Yellow card to Franko after a poorly-timed challenge. Franko's been making a lot of sliding tackles today, so this was perhaps inevitable. Her experience means she usually gets them right, but she doesn't really seem to have the foot speed anymore.

71: Hucles breaks through and is in alone on LeBlanc, who bravely comes out to challenge. However, Hucles hangs on for too long and then drills a shot right at LeBlanc, who is able to parry it and then collect the rebound with some help from the defence. Hucles really should have had a couple of goals by now: as de Vos commented, "Hucles has had four glorious opportunities today and has only managed to score on one of them." Poor finishing on her part.

74: Interestingly, that same strategy of going through the middle that's currently failing Canada is working well for the U.S., as most of their attacks are coming from the centre. Part of that is Canada's formation, which only features one central defender, but another part is the great job Rodriguez and her supporting midfielders are doing. They're working brilliantly in tandem, drawing the Canadian defenders in and then finding the open player. Due to the limited players the Americans are bringing forward, Canada usually has the superior numbers on defence, but the clever skill and trickery the U.S. players are displaying make up for that.

78: The first Canadian chance in a long time, as Matheson steals the ball in the American half. Her through ball lacks quality, though, and is recovered by the U.S. Sinclair then lets fly from 30 yards out, and forces American goalkeeper Hope Solo into a diving save. She didn't get all of that one, though: if she'd hit it as hard as the first one, she probably would have had another goal.

79: Nigel Reed on how the prolonged match is causing pressure to build on the favoured Americans, who have dominated much of the game but have little to show for it: "They should have put this one to bed by now. They've had the opportunities, but they only have one in the goal column." Indeed, but at the end of the day, the goal column is the only one that matters.

82: Dangerous ball in from the Americans, and LeBlanc decides to punch it out instead of knocking it over the bar or hanging on to it. A bad decision, as the ball goes right to an American attacker. Fortunately, she can't control it, Carli Lloyd goes offside, and the Canadians recover.

82: Substitution, U.S. Tobin Heath on, Lindsay Tarpley off. Tarpley had squandered several vital chances throughout the game.

84: Kara Lang is booked for a challenge on Lori Chalupny. The game's starting to get a bit physical now, as the rivalry between the two sides heats up.

85: A great play by Rodriguez, who outwits two Canadian defenders with some moves down the left-hand side. Her cross in is over the head of Heather O'Reilly, though.

86: O'Reilly gets another good chance off a cross, but heads it wide.

87: Lang sends a great ball through for Timko, who almost knocks it in for Canada. However, Solo makes a great play to come out and grab the ball. Timko gets tripped up by Christie Rampone and crashes into Solo. Timko's now down on the pitch getting some treatment: hopefully, she'll be okay. If she needs to be replaced, that will be Canada's final substitution.

88: Reed thinks Solo may have inadvertently caught Timko in the ribcage with a knee, which seems quite possible. Timko's still on the ground wincing in pain. Good for her for going in hard, but those are the risks you take.

90: Timko's up now and limping off. She looks like she may be able to continue: perhaps she just got the wind knocked out of her.

91: As action resumes, Franko almost makes a critical error, giving the ball away to Rodriguez just outside the Canadian box. However, she recovers quickly with a great sliding tackle and clears the ball. It's been announced that there will be three minutes of stoppage time. If no one scores, we go to extra time, and we'll have to play a full 30 minutes.

92: Substitution, Canada: 17-year-old midfielder Jonelle Filigno comes on for Timko. The Americans then get a great chance, but LeBlanc makes a brilliant play, coming outside of her box to clear from Rodriguez.

93: Sinclair then gets a great chance for Canada at the other end, but the Americans respond with an almost-breakaway for the dangerous Rodriguez. Karina LeBlanc makes a sprawling fingertip save on the goal line, pushing the ball wide for a corner. The corner is long and high, and we're going to extra time.

Extra time, first half:

90: Substitution, U.S.: Natasha Kai comes on. She scored a hat-trick against Canada in a friendly back in May this year (which earned her Deadspin immortality). As she's a striker, it looks like they're going to a 4-4-2, which makes sense: the U.S. won't want to risk the unpredictable nature of penalties, so they'll probably go for goal a bit more. That might give Canada more of a counter-attack chance.

92: Canada creates a few decent chances early, but nothing too notable.

94: A great run from the U.S., but Zurrer makes a tremendous tackle from behind in the box to knock the ball out for a corner. That was risky: she could have conceded a penalty if she mistimed it. Still, a good piece of defending in the end. The corner falls to Kai, who volleys high from six yards out.

97: Rodriguez gets a good shot off, but fires it wide.

100: Canadian midfielder Rustad lets fly from long range, but it's wide. Her shot appeared to hit a U.S. player's foot, but no corner is given.

101: Goal, U.S. A superb cross in from the left finds Kai unmarked in the box, and she makes no mistake with a header from six yards out. I think it was Zurrer who was marking her and was caught just a step behind. That's the way to have an impact as a substitute. Canada will really have to go for goal now, but there's still plenty of time.

103: Another blast from the U.S., and LeBlanc makes another great save. She's done a tremendous job coming in off the bench, and the lone goal she conceded certainly wasn't her fault.

Extra time, second half:

106: Kai gets another great chance right off the bat, but doesn't get enough on the shot.

107: Rodriguez sets up Lloyd, but Sophie Schmidt does a great job of sliding in to block her shot.

108: Lloyd lets fly from 25 yards, but it's straight at LeBlanc, who makes the save. The Americans clearly aren't content with a one-goal lead, and that's probably wise: after all, the best defence is a good offence.

109: Rodriguez is again creating chances deep in the Canadian end, but she's called for offside.

109: Substitution, U.S. Rodriguez comes off, Lauren Cheney comes on. Rodriguez had a great game and was one of the Americans' most dangerous players, so taking her off is a somewhat unusal move.

110: Cheney sends Kai through alone on goal with a great ball, but she's called back for offside.

110: Canada's starting to use the flanks more effectively now, but they aren't getting a good final cross in. Franko made a terrific run forward on the left flank, but her cross soared wide of the net for a goal kick.

112: Cheney goes in hard on Wilkinson and gets booked for her trouble.

113: Kai's showcasing some great speed here, making a tremendous run in behind the Canadian defence. She then finds Cheney with a terrific drop-pass, but Cheney fires wide from 20 yards out.

114: A long free kick from the Canadians is cleared to Sophie Schmidt, who fires back in. The ball deflects off an American defender and goes out for a corner.

114: A great chance for Schmidt off the corner. She can't get a shot off, but loops a volley pass in. Solo goes for the ball but can't get it, leaving a loose ball in the goalmouth and a frantic scramble, but Lloyd clears the danger.

115: Kai gets a breakaway on the counterattack, but is stopped by LeBlanc. Lang almost gets a breakaway herself at the other end, but a tremendous tackle from behind by Heather Mitts cleanly strips her of the ball. Five minutes left, and both sides are going for it now.

116: Cheney breaks in and lets fly from 16 yards, but only finds the side netting.

118: Canada's creating a few chances, but a crucial pass always seems to go astray at the last minute. They're losing the aerial battles, but they keep trying the long ball anyway.

119: Mitts makes a long run forward from the defence and gets in alone on LeBlanc, but fires wide. Not much time left now. One minute will be added on.

121: And the final whistle blows. Tough luck for Team Canada, but certainly a deserved win for the Americans, given their tremendous advantage in chances and possession.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Canada - U.S. soccer liveblog coming up

A quick note that I'll be live-blogging the women's soccer Olympic quarterfinal between Canada and the U.S tomorrow morning. Kick-off is at 5:49 a.m. Eastern (2:49 a.m. Pacific). My preview of the game is up over at Out of Left Field. Hope to see you here then!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Manufacturing the Olympics

The whole kerfuffle around the Olympics' lip-synching switch, pre-taped fireworks and "volunteer fans"–which got a nice front-page expose from Bruce Arthur in the National Post this morning-better reveals the true nature of the Beijing Olympics and China than most of the coverage so far. If you're one of the five people living under a rock somewhere who hasn't yet heard about this, here's the basic run-down. During the opening ceremonies, the Chinese featured a song entitled "Ode to the Motherland" that was sung by seven-year-old Yang Peiyi, but lip-synched live by nine-year-old Lin Miaoke because Yang's face was apparently too round and her teeth were too crooked. Not content with this masterpiece of propaganda, they then inserted pre-taped fireworks footage into the montage of live fireworks to add to the event and sent in volunteer cheer squads to fill some of the empty seats.

This trifecta of deceptive maneuverings shows us plenty about China. If they just let things happen as they may, this wouldn't get a ton of attention: no one cares if a seven-year-old has perfect teeth, or how long a fireworks montage is, or even if not every Olympic venue is perfectly full. Instead, they've created a firestorm of negative press out of their attempts to spin things just right. The whole censoring-the-Internet bit is right up the same alley, and it shows just how badly the Chinese understand the Western media: by trying to keep reporters from writing about Amnesty International and Tibet, which might have just been brief subplots in the vast array of Olympic coverage, they created a boatload of stories on how the government was trying to limit the media's access.

Really, they should have hired some Western PR specialists. The best way to get a reporter to write a story is not to provide him with information on it, but rather to tell him "there's nothing to see here": anyone with even a smattering of journalistic instincts knows when someone's trying to hide something. Cover-ups usually make the best stories as well, and often lead to effects far greater in magnitude than just telling the truth in the first place would have caused: just ask Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein or Richard Milhous Nixon.

It's the whole authoritarian spirit of the Chinese Olympics that is so disturbing, though. Clearly, good is not good enough. A seven-year-old girl can have a beautiful voice, but crooked teeth? She's got no place in their Olympics. Cheering and other expressions of fandom? Not unless they're state-approved [Deadspin]. Tibetan bartenders? Better expel them, as well as question their black employers, discriminate against black bar patrons, approve the lyrics of foreign entertainers and prevent local residents from inviting foreigners to their apartments [The Washington Post]. Chatting with foreigners? Only allowed if you don't ask about age, marriage, health, home, personal experience, religion, political views or occupation. While you're at it, you'd better be careful with how you walk around foreigners and how you speak with handicapped athletes [Gawker]. Reading Fire Joe Morgan or Joe Posnanski's blog? Nope, no sabermetrics here [Joe Posnanski]. Planning to protest? Make sure you check with the police first [Charles Hutzler, The Associated Press].

As Arthur writes, these Olympics are certainly impressive, but the deception and the image-management makes you wonder what's real.

"What China has built here is incredible. The architecture, the machinery, the armies of volunteers and an Opening Ceremony with images that were surely seared into the soul of every Chinese citizen, and not a few citizens of the world, who watched. These are the Superpower Olympics, damn the costs. As Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post put it, the four billion people who will see these Olympics will witness "the behemoth that is being born."
But they are the Hollywood Olympics, too, complete with false fronts and lead actors and a cast of thousands, or millions. At its heart, this is a bright, shining, $40-billion lie. If the whole thing is being staged in Cambodia, don't be surprised."

What the Chinese government fails to realize is that their own efforts at control are only making things worse. The protests in Tibet earlier this year would have been less of a story if the government hadn't tried to keep the word from getting out. The smog would have been reported on, for sure, but in a less-embarrassing and less-frequent fashion if they didn't keep trying to tell us that everything's fine. Amnesty International probably would have been a bit player at most in these Olympics if the government hadn't blocked their website. No one would have criticized Yang Peiyi's appearance if she had sang, but by using a double, they touched off a firestorm of controversy. Normal, spontaneous cheering isn't a negative story, and might even be a positive one, but telling your fans how to cheer isn't going to earn you rave reviews.

The control, the censorship and the stage-managing make it easy to be cynical and skeptical even during moments that should be great promotional pieces. Even China's gold medal in team gymnastics is largely discredited due to the controversy about the gymnasts' ages [Ann Killion, San Jose Mercury News]. Open the country and the Games up, play by the rules of the rest of the world, let the press do their job, and you'll be surprised at the praise you'll get. If you try and keep the lid on for too long, it will eventually blow off in your face in a shower of hot steam.