Hua's note: Will it ever end? I kept wondering this as I switched back-and-forth between watching that epic, 11-hour Wimbledon match and just living my life. There was something genuinely awe-inspiring about the way both John Isner and Nicolas Mahut soldiered through each point, toward infinity. Occasionally, the tennis was spectacular. But generally, over those last five hours or so, it was engrossing only because of how exhausted Isner and Mahut must have been, the pair taking turns holding serve. When Isner finally broke Mahut and ended one of the most notable matches in the history of tennis, he collapsed to the ground—but only for an instant. As if suddenly realizing Mahut's profound disappointment, Isner returned to his feet, walked to center court, and the two men embraced.
You experience an opposite sensation watching the World Cup—the clock is always running. There are few sports as sensitive to the cruelties of time as soccer. When the match begins, there is a feeling that anything is possible--that, roughly two hours (or one very long lunch break) from now, you might just witness something magical. But as the clock continues to tick, past the thirty minute mark when the sides have established their personalities for the day, past the 65- or 70-minute mark when a bold substitution might belie strategy, as those seconds mount, impervious to a ghastly injury on the pitch or the sideline gesticulations of a coach who sees something, your feelings—of hope, despair, anxiety—fluctuate.
Which is in stark opposition to an NBA Finals game, when a fourth quarter implosion is experienced in timeout! TIMEOUT! slow-motion, or the late-inning, eye-for-eye calls to the bullpen, each new reliever heralding a reset of your team's fortunes. As we watched the United States and Algeria yesterday, time bled away with the cold, familiar efficiency of real life, American boss Bob Bradley helpless in his "technical area" save a quick burst of instruction as his players jogged by. In an adjacent TV at the bar, the seconds could not run fast enough for England. Their supporters had the time to nervously dissect Fabio Capello's strange substitution choices; we were pathetically screaming for the Americans to sprint faster, win the ball back more quickly, etc. And then, it happened. The England supporters burst into applause, relieved that they had held on; a second or two later, the rest of the bar joined in, agog at Landon Donovan's winner—in stoppage time, no less.
Today, Chris Ryan joins us with his thoughts on the thrilling Chilean side and their "eccentric" boss, Marcelo Bielsa. No need for in-game adjustments here: just quicksilver strikes, predatory instincts and, if their unusual formations continue to net positive results, the shape of things to come. Blink and you'll miss it.
Wrath of the Math
By Chris Ryan
A childhood spent being goaded into retrieving lost tennis balls and Nerf footballs from other people's dog-patrolled backyards and a high school life marred by a complete and total disinterest in geometry, algebra and calculus has made me averse to both math and dares.
Those pieces of useless biographical information are brought to you by the Argentinean-born Chilean national team boss Marcelo Bielsa, his 3-3-1-3 formation and his clique of all-attacking keeper-eating piranhas who play a style of football that looks like a dare predicated on some very, very simple math.
They dare you to try and stop them, to keep possession, to make a suicidal run towards their goal. Because if you do and you fail, Chile, La Roja, will pour forward in superior numbers and they will make you pay.
The moment I fell in love with tactics was during Euro 2008, watching the Netherlands' knockout stage match-up with Russia. The Dutch were the presumptive favorites (or at least the in-form side), led by playing legend turned manager Marco Van Basten. Russia was helmed by another Dutchman, Guus Hiddink. As the thrilling, end-to-end match wore on, and with Holland struggling to break down the well-organized, well-drilled Russians, Van Basten panicked, using all of his subs by the 64th minute. After sending Ibrahim Afellay came on, the Dutch boss had played his hand. And that's when Hiddink bodied him.
It was as if he looked up at the gesticulating Van Basten, sighed and said, 'You through?'
He proceeded to send on his subs, including Dmitriy Torbinski, in the 81st minute. In the 112th minute, Torbinski scored the winning goal for Russia; but Hiddink had won the match.