By Adam Vaccaro
What happened Wednesday: For the first time since South Africa and Mexico opened up World Cup play on June 11, there was no soccer to be watched. Of course, plenty of news came up to keep us entertained even in the absence of tournament matches.
When Brazilian midfielder Elano, who had scored in each of Selecao's first two games, was held out of the lineup against Portugal in group play finales, it was largely thought to be a precautionary measure. Elano suffered what was considered a mild ankle injury towards the end of his team's win against Ivory Coast. That victory clinched a spot in the Round of 16 for the world's number one team, so it made quite a bit of sense to save the star for the second round.
But Elano was surprisingly held out in knockout play against Chile on Monday and on Wednesday was declared out for the team's quarterfinal match against the Netherlands. The uncertain nature of the injury could cost the 29-year-old the rest of the tournament or he could be good to go for a potential semi-final contest, but in any case Brazil will be without one star against the Oranje, who could prove to be their greatest challenge yet.
Issues related to the separation of soccer and state continued to pop up on Wednesday. On Tuesday, FIFA president Sepp Blatter warned French president Nicolas Sarkozy that should his government actively involve itself in the Les Bleus' matters, the team will face suspension from international competition. Still, the nation's lawmakers went ahead with a hearing that saw retiring coach Raymond Domenach take very little responsibility for the team's failure to perform on the pitch and dysfunction off of it. Some of the legislators' comments seemed quite dismissive of the warning. Though the government claims they are investigating rather than meddling, they're clearly walking on thin ice. With France's government facing much of the same issues as the rest of the Western world these days, you have to wonder if this is the best way for it to be spending its time and money before even considering the possible ramifications of its apparent arrogance.
Nigeria seemingly missed the memo from FIFA. President Goodluck Jonathan (brief aside: what a name!) suspended his nation's team from competition for two years after the Super Eagles picked up only one point in group play and reportedly plans on dissolving the Nigerian Football Federation. FIFA has not yet offered much in the way of comment except to say that it's stance on political interference in soccer matters is well-known. This is a pretty clear instance of such interference much more so than the situation in France. How FIFA responds will be interesting to watch. Would the organization simply tack on more suspension time to Nigeria's self-imposed hiatus as punishment? It remains to be seen.
Tensions have heightened heading into Germany and Argentina's 2006 quarterfinals rematch on Saturday. That match ended in German victory following a penalty shootout, but the real dramatics came after the match when a minor brawl erupted between the two sides. German star midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger said on Wednesday that those events had not gone forgotten while adding that the unbeaten Albiceleste squad shows no respect. Argentina's Carlos Tevez provided some bulletin board material of his own when he told an Argentinian newspaper that he considers Mexico, whom he twice scored upon in the team's Round of 16 victory, of better quality than Die Mannschaft.
Neither Jorge Lorrianda or Roberto Rosetti, whose refereeing mishaps respectively effected the outcomes of England and Mexico's Sunday Round of 16 matches, will be assigned any further World Cup matches. Koman Coulibaly, the culprit in costing the US victory against Slovenia, has also been cut, as has Stephane Lannoy. Lannoy issued Brazil's Kaka an errant red card after Ivory Coast's Kader Keita gave us the tournament's most absurd flop by far when he ran into Selecao's star midfielder and collapsed in faux-pain, clutching his face despite it not having been hit.
Asamoah Gyan, who scored Ghana's game winning goal in eliminating United States on Saturday and who has scored three of his team's four goals in the tournament thus far, injured his ankle in training. He's likely to play in the quarterfinals against Uruguay on Friday.
A day after being eliminated by Spain, Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo said he felt like a broken man and that he was overcome with an unimaginable sadness. Such words are sure to come as a delight to some, as the Portuguese captain and Real Madrid superstar doubles as one of sports' more polarizing figures. Comparisons in character to the New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez have been frequently made over the latter part of the past decade.
In non-Cup soccer news, LA Galaxy coach and former manager of the US National Team Bruce Arena has officially been named the coach of MLS's All-Star team. The All-Stars will face Manchester United on July 28 in Houston. Arena earned the gig as the Galaxy, club team of Landon Donovan, currently boast the league's best record (10-1-3). He selected Houston Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear as his assistant in a nice showing of respect to the host city.
Question of the Day: Why didn't FIFA speak out about government involvement in soccer issues when North Korea coach Kim Jong Hun publicly claimed that he was in constant communication with Kim Jong-Il regarding the team? I suppose it's not that hard to conjure up an image of a confused looking Blatter upon hearing that the two speak during games on a proclaimed invisible cell phone shrugging, sighing, and saying something along the lines of, Whatever. But in seriousness, there seems to be a lack of consistency in how these policies are enforced. It will be interesting to compare the severity of FIFA's responses to the situations in Nigeria and France.
Quote of Note: Theres no denying Major League Soccer is growing and the atmosphere at games can be fun (see the Unions stadium-opener this past weekend), but can people truly get motivated by a regular season game in Kansas City after jumping out of their chairs for Landon Donovans magical World Cup moment? - CSNPhilly.com's Dave Zeitlin, contemplating where American soccer fans go next. Read Zeitlin's full column here.