SPINNING THE CUP with DJ Narthex
Artist: Gabrielle Aplin
Album: Light Up The Dark (2015)
The more astute among you will have noticed that the blog has its first idle day yesterday. You may have assumed that Peter and I spent it relaxing and refueling after the grueling run of producing world-class content every damn day of the tournament.
But no. We worked – booking the most deluxe conference facility available at the Super 8 of Owatonna, Minn., the midway point between Peter’s blog headquarters in Northwood and my satellite bureau in St. Paul.
Over thin coffee, heartburn-inducing mini-muffins and flavorless cantaloupe slices common to catering of such corporate gatherings, we did a deep dive into blog analytics. Flip charts were filled, teleconferences were at capacity, focus groups welcomed and sent home with $10 Pizza Ranch gift cards. We even had one-person breakouts on topics like punctuation and fair-play tiebreakers (Senegal, sigh).
Our informatics team is still sifting, but one thing is clear. The people demand more brash and baseless predictions along the lines of my now globally infamous bit of soothsaying that Ronaldo has topped out at four goals for the tournament.Which he has.
So, you want provocation? You want spectacle? Well stand back, because I’m gonna throw down some Narthex truth right here – louder than the asynchronous thunder of me teaching myself to play the drum kit in the basement.
One of the more interesting but ultimately pointless debates this week was about he Great Group H Foot-Drag of 2018, otherwise known as England-Belgium. To the winner would go the outwardly much-thornier path to the final match, clouded by the likes of Brazil, France, Argentina and the Ronaldo-No-Longer-A-Threat Portugal. The loser would get a comparative game of Candyland.
On paper, you’d think so. And I bet it’s probably true. But maybe there’s just more equity in this tournament this year than we’ve ever seen. By naming to the lineup one of the greatest benches in football history, Gareth Southgate made clear what his strategy would be. And that big round zero on England’s side of the score sheet, while unattractive, was just what he ordered.
And you know what? I think he was right. You can call it cowardice or unsporting or momentum-squelching, but if England advances to the final match, which I am predicting here and now that they will, no one is going to remember the shady, backroom dealings of Group H. I’m not predicting them as outright champions, yet, but I am predicting they will emerge at the other end of their side of the bracket, probably handily, and that the story of those two matches will be the play of the rested and hungry Harry Kane.
So let’s forget about Thursday, England. While you were right to whisper it, I don’t believe in your sweet nothing.
DJ. Not really.
One clear conclusion from the deluxe confines of the Super 8 was that the thirst for enhanced synergistic cybernetics was topped only by the need for more Narthex. Thus, his lead contribution today. A second conclusion is that most in attendance expected some sort of “Look” for the DJ.
One impromptu break out even argued that the DJN in attendance was in fact a hired actor playing the role as some sort of multi-layered performance piece.
I wasn’t alone in shock and disappointment to see our beloved spinner in tweed and top hat. Jaunty yes but not the dude who puts the ‘Apse’ in Absolute World Music Mania. No strobe lights and ecstasy for this Vinyl Virtuoso. It was all Miss Moneypenny and Enchanted Emma.
As focus groups lingered over Pizza Ranch cinnamon and apple dessert detritus I had to put it out of mind and get back to work ranking the eight knockout round games. Work it must be for any professional dedicated to the deep analytics in which our audience has come to depend, but still a lingering discomfort burrows about what has become of our beloved DJ.
Decorum prevents me from disclosing my darkest fears, but the tournament is but a worldly woodcock newly launched from the nest and relishing the air beneath his tiny, tiny woodcock-delicate wing. There are feral felines in the bushes, raptors circle above.
But for some, ah, their long bills find concupiscent purchase in that one and perfect succulent earthworm.*
*Woodcocks forage by probing the soil with their long bills, which have flexible upper mandibles specialized for capturing and extracting earthworms. They sometimes rock their bodies backward and forward as they forage, shifting their weight heavily from foot to foot. The vibrations from this motion may prompt earthworms to move underground, making slight sounds that the woodcock may be able to hear or feel. They also eat small amounts of plant material, such as sedges, pigweed, and members of the rose family. Cold showers are recommended for the amateur ornithologist.
And as you realize why one would relish a woodcock. Well, have the decades been worth release?
On to the Games, goddamit!
Interest in descending order.
Sweden vs. Switzerland: Just because I list this game last doesn’t mean I’m not interested. All the games are interesting and that’s not common. This week is going to be fun, and of course this is football so it won’t be fun: no extra time, no goalie Klunkers, no upsets, extra time but shootouts, spousal condemnations of beer at 9 a.m., Alexi Lalas.
Game Highlights: In my limited time watching this tournament I’ve loved a few players. Sunderland’s own Wahbi Khazri from Tunisia was fun to watch but Xherdan Shaqiri from Switzerland is a joyful bowling ball of excitement. Tiny and full of energy I hope he scores a late, late, late winner.
Peter’s Favorite: Sweden. I’d like to see the yellow and blue advance despite the painful ABBA contribution from DJ earlier this week. I’m also a big Sebastian Larsson fan from his years at Sunderland. I guess he’s plying his trade at Hull now but he always seemed a tireless grunt, like most of the Sunderland players. Maybe not the best player, but I hope his perfect free kick into the box finds a blond head to keep these guys going. They should have drawn Germany but they won in the end.
Spain vs. Russia
Game Highlights: I’m thinking this should be the last-ranked game, but the prospect of a Russian humiliation has edged it up one. That’s it, I just want Russia to get their asses kicked and anything else would be a disappointment. Even my reliable underdog favoritism isn’t going to matter. A close game is not desired. Russia were handed a free ticket to these knockout games and, when they played a legitimate team, were pantsed. I don’t even like Spain. I’ve been out of the sport for the most part as Sunderland have tumbled, but I still know all the players on Spain. And most of them are asses. They are the guys that hit on your girlfriend in High School. Just to hit on your girlfriend in high school.
Peter’s Favorite: Spain, reluctantly, but emphatically.
Uruguay vs. Portugal
Game Highlights: I want Portugal to remain in the competition as long as Ronaldo suffers Gary’s curse. Seriously, if Portugal win the World Cup and Ronaldo doesn’t score he will be unfulfilled. Less seriously he will be pissed and he will have his handlers research this Gary Hornseth from the United States. He of the altered statue, recent Spanish EFT, World Cup Champion/yet humiliation, will find that this Gary Hornseth is actually a DJ of uncompromising and unimpeachable character ; He will end up courting this enigma as a necessary component of his Madiera-based posse of sycophants.
Peter’s Favorite: Goalless Ronaldo Portugal. Otherwise, Uruguay
Croatia vs. Denmark
Game Highlights: I’ve also enjoyed watching Croatia’s star Luka Modrić. Something about normal sized guys performing on the world stage. Croatia has also been one of the few teams to always show up for games this tournament and that’s a strong incentive to back this side for at least one more game. Denmark, however, were always a favorite. This is Chef Nat’s team and I can’t diss them because not only do I count on him to serve “fresh craft beers in a family-friendly and historically-sensitive atmosphere” every Thursday, but I locked him in my luxurious digs for close to six months.
Peter’s Favorite: Denmark, “Nat, really, it wasn’t kidnapping, it was kid-mentoring”
Belgium vs. Japan
Game Highlights: This is ranked higher because I’m expecting a defensive intensity from Japan for most of the game. And as always in this type of game it’s one moment of madness from a Belgian defender that leads to a 32nd-minute penalty that leads to Japan putting 10 in the box for the last 60 minutes. Belgium will score in the 88th-minute. Win it in the 91st.
Peter’s Favorite: Belgium. This is your World Cup 2018 Winner folks.(Every time I see the TV shots of celebrating Belgium fans all I can think of is the great beer that they must drink and yet they probably don’t drink anything but Bud Light, the most recent of Great Belgian Pilsners).
France vs. Argentina
Wow, let’s get this party started. The first game of the knockout round is perhaps the best game on paper but not the best in Peter’s World Cup. I want the France that underperforms and brings out the worse in Gallic smugness. Not this World Cup. Not yet. This France has been good, not too many bad characters. Argentina on the other hand have been mediocre with their superstar Messi in some kind of existential crisis. He scored a brilliant goal last game—seriously, most goals in slow motion take a little shine off euphoria, but this was text perfect and no one is suggesting that Messi isn’t world class. But did you look at his next three passes? He is not at peak.
Peter’s Favorite: France, but if Argentina are winning and France are arguing with one another OK.
Brazil vs. Mexico
Mexico took the early prize for dark horse for this tournament. Everyone this side of the Rhine loved the German embarrassment but their last match against Sweden brought them down to tierra. Still, I expect this to be the most dramatic match of the knockout with Mexico winning in penalty kicks.
Peter’s Favorite: Mexico. Go el Tri.
Colombia vs. England
So the three lions lost their game to Belgium because it was a better path to the World Cup Championship. I’d rather imagine that 10 Proper English Chaps sitting around a large Edwardian Table decided that beating Belgium would teach the continentals a right proper lesson about standing up in a time of uncertainty. Also, they’d looked at the map and decided this was an easy route of conquest. One of the 10 would have thrusted a Churchillian “V” before ordering a call to ‘1-6 Southgate,’ in later years we would know this message as “Can I win the game and help myself or if I lose will it actually be better, and If we lose and still lose to Colombia can I get a high paying gig on Sky Sports” but that’s called Presentism.
Peter’s Favorite: England, really?
On To the Beer
No beer. A Tokay wine of 1866, perhaps with a side of woodcock wings. Bleu cheese, no Ranch please.
You don't need to eat. Open your beer fridge in the garage and enjoy the games. Geez it's the weekend.