Urban blight

Urban Meyer, a lying piece of fecal matter, is on “administrative leave” from The Ohio State University. In other words, he’s being paid to lay low at home until the folks in Columbus can clear his name enough so he can return to the sidelines in time for the Buckeyes’ opener Sept. 1 at home vs. Oregon State.

I have plenty of strong opinions about Urban. I’ll save those for later.

Ohio State is ranked third in the worthless preseason coaches poll behind Alabama and Clemson. Might as well cement the Crimson Tide and Tigers from South Carolina in those spots. I don’t see either losing this year. Alabama gets Auburn in Tuscaloosa and there’s no way it is losing to LSU.

Speaking of LSU, the Bayou Bengals are too high at #24. Should not be in the poll. Not until Ed Orgeron settles on a quarterback, and that quarterback proves himself. If LSU defeats Miami in Arlington a month from today, then fine, the Bayou Bengals should be ranked. But not until then.

An online sports book has placed odds on the possibility of several big name coaches leading Ohio State into its opener.

Greg Schiano, the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator, is +400, meaning if you bet $1 and Schiano is named as Meyer’s permanent successor, you win $400.

Meyer is overwhelmingly favored to have his job back before Sept. 1. He is -300 on the book, meaning you’d have to bet $300 to win $1 plus the original $300 wagered.

There are three coaches on the list who are +20,000: Nick Saban, James Franklin and Jim Harbaugh. I think Saban coaching in Columbus is not far-fetched, just not in 2018. I’ll tell you why in a post I will be composing very soon.

I had a great night of sleep. I went to bed at 2230 (10:30 pm) and only got up once, at 2:45. When I fell back asleep, I didn’t wake up again until 0808. The new mask for my CPAP must really work.

I spent most of the day in Kansas, since I had a 1500 appointment with Andrea for my second back wax treatment. I did not eat at Joe’s Kansas City this time. In fact, I didn’t eat anything after I had a leftover Chick-Fil-A sandwich for breakfast until I got back to the hotel after 1600.

The wax went very well. Some pain, but I knew it was coming and I did not scream once. I winced a few times, but that was it. I have to go back a couple of weeks before my birthday for the third treatment. I know nobody sees it, but I feel better.

The NFL exhibition season starts tonight. Bears vs. Ravens in the Hall of Fame game. I’m sure the Ravens were selected because of Ray Lewis going into the Hall, and the Bears because of Brian Urlacher.

However, why do Lewis and Urlacher matter more than the others? Why not the Packers because of Jerry Kramer? Or the Vikings because of Randy Moss? Or the Redskins because of Bobby Beathard? Oh well. It’s football so I’m sure it will draw an audience. However, most of the guys you see in the final three quarters will not be playing come Sept. 6 when the Falcons and Eagles kick off the regular season in Philadelphia.

The Red Sox and Yankees begin a four-game series starting tonight in Boston. No other baseball matters. At least according to ESPN and Fox.

I ain’t gonna pay no toll!

The Kansas Turnpike has introduced “open road tolling” recently. This allows drivers with an electronic collection device in their vehicle to drive through a dedicated lane without having to slow down.

This was introduced in Oklahoma a long time ago. However, this was at a time when Kansas toll tags were not operational in Oklahoma and vice versa, meaning you had to have a separate tag for each state. Fortunately, Oklahoma’s tags in those days were like Kansas, where they were attached to the windshield by velcro, meaning you could change them as you crossed the state lines.

About six years ago, Oklahoma eliminated the hard case tags and went to a sticker which could not be removed once it was mounted. Fortunately, I did not have any trips to Oklahoma in that time, and by time I went back through the state–on the trip to Louisiana in April–the Kansas and Oklahoma tags were able to be used in the other state.

The first open road lanes on the Kansas Turnpike were opened early this year at the eastern terminal near Bonner Springs. It has been quite convenient, since the toll plaza often backs up, especially if there is heavy traffic heading towards Kansas City.

I discovered today that the open road tolling lanes have been installed on I-70 at the east end of Topeka.

Sadly, the biggest problem of open road tolling propped up today.

A truck from Illinois flew through the open road lane without a tag. I knew he didn’t have a tag because there was nothing affixed to his windshield under the mirror.

I wanted to contact the Highway Patrol and report the truck, but I didn’t.

Some jurisdictions have completely eliminated toll booths and toll takers at some interchanges, instead instituting a toll-by-plate program for those who do not have a tag. To my knowledge, this hasn’t been implemented in Kansas, or why else would there be toll booths and attendants at the locations with open road tolling?

It reminds me of a line from the C.W. McCall Classic “Convoy”: “we just ain’t gonna pay no toll!” The truck looked like it was in a hurry to get somewhere and I lost track of it past Lawrence.

Other than that, no trouble driving to Kansas City. I stopped in Salina to get a haircut. Ashley at Sport Clips cropped me really close. Tomorrow is my next back treatment in Prairie Village with Andrea. Now I know what to expect.

As for the rest of the day I’m debating. I am just not into trivia as much as I have been in the past. Nor am I really hankering for barbecue.

One of my infrequent posts

Your undisciplined blogger here. I’ve got to do better. I’m making this statement for at least the 481st time on Foots Prints. I failed to follow through the first 480 times.

Sports is kind of in a lull right now. The World Cup ended two weeks ago with France defeating Croatia; the Open Championship ended eight days ago with a command performance by Francisco Molinari, who didn’t crack under the pressure of playing with Eldrick Woods in the final round; and one league of Major League Baseball is about as suspenseful as watching paint dry. Four of the five playoff teams in the American League are known: Red Sox, Yankees, Indians and Astros. The fifth spot will either come down to the Mariners or Athletics. Everyone else? Forget it.

Fortunately, the National League still holds drama. The Brewers somehow are only three games back (in the loss column) of the Cubs despite going 1-7 in Miami and Pittsburgh the week before the All-Star break, and Milwaukee has a comfortable lead as the first wild card. The Marlins, Mets and Padres are all done, and while the Reds are playing better under Jim Riggelman, the early hole they dug under Bryan Price is too much.

I don’t know if the Brewers can hold on to a playoff spot. They got some help in acquiring Joakim Soria and Mike Moustakas, but the injury bug has hit Miller Park hard. Milwaukee would have trouble in a one-game playoff against either Arizona, Atlanta or Philadelphia, and then if the Brewers won, they would have to play the Cubs in the division series.

John Tavares signed with the Maple Leafs. The ex-Islander will make Toronto a dangerous team offensively, but Mike Babcock knows there’s no way teams can win 6-4 in the NHL every night in this era. It isn’t the 1980s, when Edmonton was able to rush the puck up the ice consistently with Gretzky, Kurri, Messier, Coffey and Glenn Anderson and score seven or eight on many nights. Also, Toronto doesn’t have a goaltender anywhere near the caliber of Grant Fuhr to take on 40-45 shots consistently.

If Babcock doesn’t find some help on the blue line, and quick, Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen will die from taking on too many shots, and Toronto will never climb above Boston and Tampa Bay in the Atlantic.

The Bucks? Well, letting Jabari Parker walk wasn’t the problem. DRAFTING Jabari Parker was. If the Bucks were smart, they would have taken Joel Embiid number two overall instead of Parker, and even if Embiid would have been slow to heal from the injuries which plagued him at Kansas, it still would have been much better than Parker. Until the Bucks find help for the Greak Freak, they won’t be making it past the second round of the playoffs any time soon, even if the East is wide open after Boston, Philadelphia and Toronto.

I’ve written off the Arizona Cardinals. I don’t care what their record is. Actually, the worse, the better. They need a lot of help. Josh Rosen isn’t going to be the magic panacea to get them back to the Super Bowl. The offensive line sucks, and it has sucked since the Cardinals were in St. Louis. The running game has been non-existent since Ottis Anderson was in his heyday. I am not confident Steve Wilks is the answer.

I’ve also written off my alma mater’s football team. I just can’t see any better than 7-5. I hope I’m wrong. I’m looking at Miami, Auburn, Georgia Alabama and Texas A&M as games where LSU will be at a decided disadvantage. If the Mississippi State game were in Starkville and not Baton Rouge, I would have to favor State, but it’s a toss-up in Death Valley. The Florida game would be a toss-up in Baton Rouge, but in Gainesville, the Gators have to be favored. LSU is at a decided advantage in Baton Rouge vs. Ole Miss, but the Rebels will treat it as a bowl game since they are on probation. LSU has held the upper hand against Arkansas under Orgeron, but the Razorbacks will be dangerous in November after they learn Chad Morris’ system, especially in Fayetteville.

Forget the football played with a prolate spheroid and on a gridiron.

Football season is still 11 days away. The REAL football season, that is.

The Premier League kicks off August 10 when Leicester City visits Old Trafford to play Manchester United. It’s the second consecutive year Leicester has had to go on the road and play the Friday night game to open the season; last year, the Foxes lost 3-2 to Arsenal at Emirates Stadium. The rest of the league plays either that Saturday or Sunday.

The smart money is on Manchester City to repeat as Premier League champions. Why not? Pep Guardiola has built a machine at the Etihad Stadium, and it is still a step ahead of United and Liverpool, the other two teams which figure to be at the top of the table with City. Chelsea and Arsenal have new managers and the distraction of the Europa League, which forces teams to play on Thursdays before turning around to play league matches on Saturday or Sunday, and that will hurt. Tottenham has a golden opportunity this year with Arsenal and Chelsea a bit down and the excitement of moving into the new White Hart Lane, but will Spurs take it?

I don’t think Leicester will be anywhere near the danger of the drop zone, but I can’t see another Claudio Rainieri-Jamie Vardy miracle, either. Mid-table would be fine with me, maybe seventh and a spot in the Europa League.

Bournemouth probably has no business in the top flight, given it plays in a stadium which seats less than 12,000 has nowhere near the resources of the Big Six of the Premier League, and not as much as Leicester, Fulham and a few others. However, Eddie Howe is a fine manager, and that’s the reason the Cherries are still in the top flight and the likes of Sunderland, Stoke, Swansea, West Brom and Hull aren’t. In fact, Sunderland has cratered into League One, the third division, just two years after competing in the Premier League. OUCH.

Meanwhile, the pressure in Italy’s Serie A is on Juventus, where Cristiano Ronaldo has taken his talents after a long and storied run at Real Madrid. The Turin side is always expected to be at or near the top of Serie A, but this year, the pressure has to be crushing.

The same can be said for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga. It has been Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and 16 weak sisters in most recent years in Germany, but last year, Dortmund was not only looking up at Bayern, but also Schalke and Hoffenheim. Christian Pulisic, the 19-year old American phenom, has a lot of weight on his shoulders at Dortmund, but it’s a position every MLS player would kill to be in.

I have an appointment in Prairie Village Thursday afternoon to get another treatment on my back. Now I know what to expect.

My dear friend Peggy celebrated a birthday yesterday. I know how old she is, but I won’t tell you. Sorry.

Watching The Price is Right now. WHY DO CONTESTANTS LOOK AT THE CROWD? They don’t know a damn thing. If I’m going to lose, I want to do it my way. I’m sure the contestant coordinators don’t pick the highest IQs, so what help can they be? Also, looking at the crowd wastes time!

Almost 42 going on 10

Someone left comments on three of my previous posts in the wee hours this morning. They’ve since been deleted. The person who posted them couldn’t even reveal his or her full name–not even first name. They just put “A” as their name. Okay then.

One of them took me to task for using foul language. Yes, I admit to that. Too often. I’ve got to do better.

The second said my life was pathetic. I opened myself up for that one because what I put at the top of one of my posts last week. I deleted it, but the damage was done.

The third, however, upset me.

This person said I write like a 10-year old.

I am painfully–very painfully–self-conscious about my autistic disorder. I feel like a teeanager trapped in the body of someone in his 40s. My verbal skills are lacking. My social skills are even worse.

However, I always thought I could write well.

Apparently, someone didn’t think so.

Yes, I should ignore this person. But I’m so hard on myself I can’t right now. Maybe I write like I’m 10, which would put me back in fifth grade. I don’t want to go back there, because fifth grade was one of my worst school experiences.

On the other hand, would a 10-year old go into exquisite detail about something most would find boring?

Boozer

Last night was the first night since Tuesday I did not consume alcohol.

That was not a typo.

Let me repeat: I, David Steinle, consumed alcohol on four consecutive nights.

Four unopened bottles of alcohol–two of Kahlua, one of Absolut and one of Bailey’s–tempted me to try them instead of letting them just sit there.

If you read my last post, I tried Kahlua for the first time Wednesday in my coffee.

The next night, I tried Kahlua and Diet Pepsi, known by some as a Cola Black Russian. The regular Black Russian is vodka and Kahlua. There wasn’t very much booze–just a 45 ml (2 oz) shot of Kahlua in a 700 ml Tervis glass over ice.

Of course I liked it, and there’s another cocktail I can make when I am in the privacy of my house or a hotel room. I still am very loath to drink in public. I am a staunch believer in those commercials which state “you drink, you drive, you lose”.

Two drinks Friday–first a Kahlua and iced coffee, and the second my lone all-alcohol drink, a mudslide.

I broke the seal on the Absolut and the Irish creme, and then I poured them into the cocktail shaker I bought many years ago but have never used. Poured them into a glass and drank. It was a little strong, but that’s what happens when you don’t drink very much. It helped me relax a little, but I wasn’t feel too buzzed.

I poured Bailey’s and Kahlua into an iced coffee Saturday evening after I went out to eat with my parents. I could have ordered a drink with dinner since my dad was driving, but I chose not to. No drinking in public at least for now.

Yesterday, I made a conscious effort not to drink, since I have an appointment with Crista today at 1400. I have not driven since Wednesday, but I’m not complaining. No use being out in this heat.

The Kahlua coffee I bought from Walmart isn’t doing it for me. For some reason, it pales in comparison to the real thing.

I’m excited that I’ll be receiving a shipment of Community Coffee from Louisiana by the end of this week.

Community is the best-selling brand in Louisiana, and it operates numerous coffeehouses in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas. Many from the Big Easy swear by Community and swear at Starbucks. Die-hard Orleanians sneer at those who drink Starbucks, thinking those who do are disloyal to the city.

Some of Community’s flavors sound downright mouth-watering: sugar beignet, king cake, pecan praline…only in New Orleans. Of course I ordered those, plus some of Community’s coffee and chicory, the stuff my mother guzzles but my father won’t touch.  I snuck a scoop of my mother’s coffee and chicory canister while I was at home alone Friday. I added a couple of Sweet and Low packets, and found it to be pretty good.

Robb suggested decaf coffee. Good idea. I’ve got that on order too, and I might just pick up some in Hays today.

I have some Irish creme and hazelnut syrup I’ve been using in my coffee. I made an order for syrup which should be arriving tomorrow. I learned one thing: do NOT mix Irish creme with pop. ICK. It’s just fine with coffee. The hazelnut syrup and pop? YUMMY. I’ve ordered some pineapple syrup for my pop, something I’m craving since I cannot get pineapple in my drinks at Sonic anymore.

I woke up too early this morning. 0300. It might be an early bedtime, but that’s not a bad thing.

Very late to the coffee game

was upset to learn last month The Cheesecake Factory discontinued my favorite flavor, Kahlua.

I have not generally been a consistent coffee drinker, but I have this weakness for coffee-flavored desserts and candy. I have been known to consume Werther’s Originals coffee flavored hard candies by the bag in a single day. I used to eat coffee ice cream for a week or two at a time without eating anything else.

I first sampled Kahlua cheesecake a decade ago when I stopped at The Cheesecake Factory on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, and I was hooked. I often went to the location in Overland Park (119th and Metcalf) when I stayed on the south side of town, and even sometimes when I was north of the river, too. I sometimes brought LIz and Lisa red velvet cheesecake while I got Kahlua for myself.

With Kahlua gone, tiramisu is my next choice. I absolutely loved the tiramisu whenever I was able to eat it at Pocorello’s in Baton Rouge.

There was a period a little over three years ago when I regularly went to a large liquor store in Overland Park, mostly to buy Abita beer for my friends (you’re welcome, Lisa) so they could have a taste of Louisiana. I broke down one day and bought a couple of bottles of Kahlua and a bottle of Absolut vanilla, thinking I might try to make White and  Black Russians. I also bought a blender in May 2015, thinking I might start to mix drinks.

To make a long story short, the Kahlua has sat unopened in my refrigerator for over three years, and the blender now resides with Caitlyn on the other side of the state.

Back to my coffee history. My parents devoured the stuff when I was growing up in New Orleans, but I never touched it. I went through my 20s and 30s without drinking hot coffee, but there were times I would get a frappuccino or iced latte at Starbucks.

There was a Dunkin’ Donuts about two miles from my house when I was young, but it closed when I was 10. There was no Dunkin’ in Louisiana for well over a decade, until one opened in a shopping center adjacent to the Superdome.

It wasn’t until I moved to Kansas and started going to Kansas City when I discovered Dunkin’s iced coffee. There are periods when I want to go almost every day, which happened a couple of weeks ago when I was last there.

On Christmas Eve 2016, I drank black coffee straight up driving from Topeka to Russell, something I had never done. My dad always drinks his coffee black, straight up, and it caused him much ridicule in New Orleans, where coffee and chicory with milk (Cafe Au Lait) is the standard. My mother understood, because she never puts anything except Sweet and Low in her coffee and chicory, which makes her an oddball among the natives of the Big Easy.

When I got back to Russell last Tuesday, I still had a jones for iced coffee. I seriously explored buying a coffee maker which could handle iced coffee.

I found it in a Keurig model which came out early this year. I almost pulled the trigger and bought from a couple of online vendors, but last Saturday, I got it at Target in Salina after getting my hair cut.

I didn’t use it for the first time until Tuesday. Folgers Black Silk. A little strong, but a couple of packets of Sweet and Low (saccharin is much better than aspartame, trust me) made it quite smooth without taking away any of its boldness.

Both the iced and hot versions were excellent.

I also noticed Keurig made pods of Kahlua brand coffee. Lucky for me, I didn’t have to order them direct; there were three boxes of 18 each at Walmart in Hays when I went yesterday. I bought them all, then drank one cup hot and one cup iced. I think I have my coffee rotation.

Later last night, I figured out why not try the Kahlua? It’s been sitting there and my parents certainly weren’t going to drink it. They also found no takers at the American Legion club, so it was sitting there on the bottom shelf of the door in the garage refrigerator while thousands of liters of pop went in and out, as did dozens of eggs, several pounds of cheese and a few varieties of cold cuts.

I poured half a shot glass–28 grams–of pumpkin spice Kahlua into 355 grams of hot coffee, added two Sweet and Low packets, and off I went.

Where were you all my life?

Let the record show it took 41 years, 9 months and 5 days for me to drink a distilled spirit. Kahlua, however, doesn’t have nearly the alcohol content that vodka or whiskey has, and of course, it was diluted by the coffee. But I think I’ve got a winner.

I also learned yesterday cooking a steak in a cast iron skillet on a stove is pretty damn good, too. About five or six minutes per side and it comes out perfectly rare, just the way I like it.

 

Stuck in Russia

France and Croatia play Sunday for the World Cup. Croatia is the second smallest country to ever contest a World Cup championship match. The former Yugoslav state has a population of 4.1 million, equivalent to that of Oregon.

The only smaller country to play in a World Cup final was Uruguay, which currently has a population of 3.45 million, a little less than Connecticut.  However, Uruguay had much less population when it won the first World Cup in 1930 and defeated Brazil in Rio de Janeiro in what turned out to be the deciding match in the 1950 tournament.

It should be noted the current format of a 16-team, four-stage knockout tournament following group play was not formally adopted until 1986. There were numerous different formats tried by FIFA, including a double group stage format in 1974, ’78 and ’82. Only in ’82 did the top two finishers in each group at the second group stage play in a knockout tournament; in ’74 and ’78, the two teams which won their respective groups in the second group stage played for the championship, while the second placed teams in each of the second round groups played for third.

Belgium and England, the teams which lost to France and Croatia, respectively, have not been able to depart Russia since their semifinal heartbreak.

Thank you, FIFA.

The world’s premier sporting event, at least for team sports, still insists on a third place match. I don’t know how much motivation Belgium and England could possibly have after such heartbreak, but FIFA is forcing them to convene tomorrow morning (at least in the United States) on the pitch in St. Petersburg.

What is the use of a third place match? NOTHING. UEFA has eliminated the useless third place matches in its Champions League and Europa League competitions and at the UEFA Cup, held every four years between national sides to determine the continent’s best.

Why can’t FIFA just let the losing semifinal teams go home, lick their wounds and spend the weekend with their families after being away for so long?

Apparently, it’s money.

FIFA will pay the winner of the third place match a prize pool of 20.5 million Euros ($24 million USD), compared to 18.8 million Euros ($22 million) for the loser of the third place match. Why not just give each team losing in the semifinals the same pot and let them go home?

If FIFA insists on a match the day before the final, why not let the host nation play a semifinal (or quarterfinal) loser? That would be a guaranteed sellout and a great way for the host nation to thank their loyal fans and football federation for hosting the world’s largest sporting event.

I would like to see a nation relegated to the third place match just not show up, but I’m sure FIFA would fine that nation a great deal and may not allow it to participate in the next World Cup, so it’s a form of blackmail. Just the same, I would love to see a Kansas high school basketball team tell the Kansas State High School Activities Association to take a hike and not show up for a third place game in a state tournament.

I can dream, but I’m also realistic here, so on we go with the meaningless games, games which many probably would rather not play.

Even worse, if the third place match tomorrow is level after normal time, there will be extra time, and then the infamous shootout if it is still tied after extra time. Yawn. If the third place match is going to be played, it should be limited to 90 minutes. If it ends in a draw, so be it. Find another way to determine who gets the third place money (overall record, goal differential, what have you), but going more than 90 minutes is cruel to two teams who came so close to playing on the grandest stage in team sports but failed.

It’s late. Not that late, but late for me since Crista told me to start going to bed at an earlier hour.

 

Bye-bye Russia…until 2026 or later

The World Cup is taking a two-day breather before the semifinals Tuesday (France-Belgium at St. Petersburg) and Wednesday (Croatia-England at Moscow). For South America, it’s on to Qatar 2022. Uruguay and Brazil, the continent’s final two remaining nations, were knocked out Friday. Uruguay was no match for France, falling 2-0, while Brazil fell behind by two goals to Belgium and could not make up the difference, with the European side prevailing 2-1. Yesterday, England went to halftime with Sweden scoreless, but dominated the second half and won 2-0 to advance to the semifinals for the first time since 1990. The Croatia-Russia match produced plenty of drama. Russia led 1-0 at halftime. Croatia came back to level the score in the second half, and the tally remained that way at full time, forcing 30 minutes of extra time.Croatia took the lead in the first 15-minute extra time period, meaning Russia would have to score in the second 15-minute period or else. Indeed, Russia did score six minutes from the death. Off to kicks from the penalty mark, the method which both nations used to win their round of 16 ties. Croatia prevailed 4-3, and truthfully, it was best for the game that Croatia won. It will make for a stronger tie vs. England. Russia would not have been in the World Cup had it not gained automatic entry for being the host nation. It was ranked 65th in the world by FIFA when the draw for the World Cup groups was held last December, and had slipped to 70th by June 7, the date of the last rankings prior to the World Cup starting a week later. Russia is going to feel good about its football program after this World Cup, but it should not get cocky. Russia beat two equally bad sides, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and was thoroughly dominated by Uruguay in its final group match. It did not win a match in the knockout stage, because draws after 120 minutes officially go down in the record books as draws, with kicks from the penalty mark only used to determine which team advances in the tournament, not for won-loss purposes. I am not a betting man. If I was, I would certainly predict Russia will not be playing in Qatar in four years. Italy and the Netherlands will do all they can to make sure they don’t miss consecutive World Cups. I can never see Belgium, Croatia, France, Germany, England, Spain and Portugal not making it. I like the chances for Denmark and Switzerland to make it to Qatar, and I would have to rank Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Austria, Slovakia, Ireland and Turkey ahead of Russia. That’s 19 countries ahead of Russia. There will be 13 places for UEFA teams in the 2022 World Cup (16 when the field expands to 48 teams in 2026). Therefore, I would not expect Russia to be playing again in a World Cup until 2026, maybe later. I had Brazil vs. Croatia in the World Cup final. One half of that prediction can still come true, and I am going to stick with that. The former Yugoslavian division will be playing in Moscow a week from today for the grandest prize in team sports.On the other side of the bracket, I’m tempted to pick Belgium since it ousted Brazil, but France has looked mighty fine to date. Boy, that should be one heck of a match. I didn’t have either side going past the quarterfinals, but now one will play for the title. I think Belgium is spent after beating Brazil. France hasn’t had to exert nearly as much energy. I’ll go with Les Bleus to make the final for the first time since it won it all at home in 1998.

Another jinx vanquished

There will be no World Cup matches today, fitting since today is the 242nd anniversary of the independence of a nation which cannot fight its way out of a wet paper bag in association football, at least when it counts the most.

It’s even more fitting the World Cup is off today, because  the country celebrating the 242nd anniversary of its independence gained said independence from the country which birthed “the beautiful game”.

One of the constituent countries of the nation where association football (soccer for those snooty Americans) is still alive in the World Cup, thanks to ending a curse which had long haunted it.

England advanced by winning a shootout (kicks from the penalty mark) yesterday over Colombia.

Repeating: England advanced by winning a shootout.

Let that sink in for a few seconds.

It’s the first time The Three Lions have won a shootout in the World Cup since it was introduced to team sports’ greatest spectacle in 1978 (but not put into practice until 1982).

Previously, England had been eliminated in 1990 (semifinals vs. West Germany), 1998 (round of 16 vs. Argentina in a match which saw David Beckham draw a straight red card two minutes into the second half; that England was able to hold Argentina scoreless for 73-plus minutes was amazing) and 2006 (vs. Portugal, with Cristiano Ronaldo burying the winner).

England appeared as if it would win in normal time 1-0, with Harry Kane burying a penalty kick in the 57th mniute after he was taken down in the box rather aggressively.

Colombia played borderline dirty all match, with the manager giving an English player a hard shoulder as they exited the pitch at halftime, and another Colombian player getting away with a headbutt as they jostled in the box on a free kick.

However, Colombia’s Yerry Mina scored the equalizer only seconds from full time, and the match continued. The half-hour of extra time was scoreless, and the groans went up from Newcastle and Sunderland in the North East to Bournemouth and Southampton on the south coast, and all points in between.

The tension had to be most palpable in Sunderland and Liverpool.

English goalkeeper Jordan Pickford is a native of the North East of England. He played for Sunderland before leaving the Black Cats in the summer of 2017 after they were relegated out of the Premier League.

Everton, located in Liverpool and the archrival of the world-famous Liverpool Football Club, won the bidding war for Pickford. However, the Toffees were unable to fully take advantage of having Pickford and Wayne Rooney, finishing well behind Burnley for the final European qualifying spot, and obviously behind the Big Six of the Premier League: Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Arsenal.

FYI, the four most famous residents of Liverpool, two of whom are sadly no longer with us (one at the hands of a bloody murderer) did not care about the Merseyside Derby, the name given to the Liverpool-Everton rivalry. It was reported The Fab Four did not care much for football, at least the kind played with a round ball (Paul McCartney performed during the Super Bowl XXXVI pregame show and Super Bowl XXXIX halftime show).

In fact, when England won the 1966 World Cup at the old Wembley Stadium, Paul, John, George and Ringo were on the last leg of their last concert tour in the United States. And if you think few Americans care about soccer in 2018, the number of soccer die-hards in 1966 may have numbered less than the number of members of United States House (435).

Back to 2018, Pickford and his mates.

The announcers on Fox stated throughout extra time that Colombia was a lead-pipe cinch to advance to a quarterfinal meeting with Sweden. They felt Colombia had enough momentum from the late equalizer to score in extra time, then kept harping on England’s failure in shootouts in the past when it looked like the third shootout of the round of 16 would be a reality.

Surprisingly, English manager Gareth Southgate chose Kane to go first. Many managers save their best kicker for the fourth or fifth round, which is what the United States women did in shootouts in the World Cup finals of 1999 and 2011. In 1999, Mia Hamm, arguably the greatest female association football player to date, went fourth, leaving the heroics to Brandi Chastain and her famous sports brassiere. In 2011, Abby Wambach went fourth, but because the three before her–Shannon Boxx, Carli Lloyd and Tobin Heath all missed, it didn’t matter, and Japan won. More of the blame lies on the shoulders of Hope(less) Solo (now Stevens).

Kane and Marcus Rashford scored for England after Radamel Falcao and Juan Cudrado did the same for Colombia. Luis Muriel scored the third kick for Colombia, but Jordan Henderson’s attempt was turned aside by David Ospina, shifting the edge to Colombia.

The pressure was now on Pickford. If he could not stop Mateus Uribe, the South American side would have a huge edge, knowing it would at the very least go into sudden death.

Pickford got a piece of Uribe’s arching shot. It hit the crossbar anyway, and England’s condition was upgraded from critical to satisfactory. It became completely healed when Kieran Trippler scored to knot it up again.

Carlos Bacca stepped to the mark for Colombia. He went right, and Pickford was spot on, easily stoning the Colombian substitute forward.

Southgate sent Eric Dier onto the pitch in the 81st minute to spell Dele Alli, the Tottenham striker. Dier now was called upon to take the last kick of the regulation round. If he missed, the kicks would go into sudden death. If Dier scored, England would play again Saturday.

Dier went hard and low to his left. Ospina guessed wrong. England was jolly indeed.

England now plays Sweden, a 1-0 victor over Switzerland. The winner of that match plays the winner of Croatia-Russia, which is also Saturday.

Friday’s matches are France-Uruguay and Brazil-Belgium. I picked Croatia, England and Brazil as semifinalists before the knockout round, and I’ll stick with that. I had France playing Portugal, with Les Bleus losing. I’ll pick France to win, though, against Uruguay.

Maybe it was time for England to end its curse. The Red Sox ended the Curse of the Bambino in 2004. The Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA championship, ending Cleveland’s sports curse which spanned 51 1/2 years. The Cubs ended the Curse of the BIlly Goat by winning the 2016 World Series, their first in 108 years. The Astros broke through last year, their 56th season, to win their first World Championship. The Eagles won Super Bowl LII earlier this year, Philadelphia’s first NFL title since 1960. The Capitals won their first Stanley Cup last month, ending a long run of playoff futility.

See? Most bad things will end. The bad news? All good things WILL end sooner or later.

Meanwhile, the Rays and Marlins played 16 innings last night. How depressing. Paid attendance: 6,259. I’d like to know how many people actually went to the game in Miami, and how many were left when it ended at 0040 Eastern.

The Royals and Orioles seem to be racing to the bottom. Both have lost 60 games, and both are so far out of the playoff race they need the Hubble telescope to find the Red Sox, Yankees, Astros, Mariners and Indians. Both are on pace to lose 114 games. Neither will probably lose that many, but both will likely fall short of 60 wins.

The Royals host the Red Sox this weekend. There are only nine more big-revenue home games left on the schedule at Kauffman Stadium: the three this weekend, plus three-game sets with the Cardinals and Cubs.

In case you’re curious, the Royals and Orioles play three in Kansas City Labor Day weekend. I’m sure the ticket office at The K is burning up over ticket sales for that one.

Football frenzy

I watched nearly every minute of the FIFA World Cup the past two days. I tuned into the France-Argentina match after 20 minutes, then watched the full 90 in Portugal-Uruguay, and the full 120 plus in both Spain-Russia and Croatia-Denmark.

France scored three second half goals to overcome a 2-1 deficit, then had to hold on when Argentina scored in stoppage time to cut the margin to 4-3. France held on to win by that score.

Les Bleus will play Uruguay Friday in the quarterfinals. The South American side scored early vs. Portugal and dominated the first half, leading by that 1-0 tally at halftime. The European champions scored just after the one-hour mark to equalize, but Uruguay came right back to regain the advantage. Portugal tried desperately to gain its second goal throughout the final 20 minutes plus stoppage time, but Uruguay did a great job of defending Cristiano Ronaldo and prevailed 2-1.

Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who played his final World Cup match for Argentina, both gone on the same day. However, France-Uruguay will not disappoint.

Speaking of not disappointing, today was something else.

The morning match in Moscow was expected to be a cakewalk. Spain has had issues aplenty since winning the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European championship, but it was expected to have no trouble with Russia, which took advantage of an ridiculously weak draw in Group A, defeating Saudi Arabia and Egypt before being hammered by Uruguay.

Just before the 12-minute mark, a Russian defender attempted to clear the ball deep in the penalty area, only to knock into the net. Own goal. Spain leads.

With five minutes to go in the first half, Russia had a corner kick. The ball flew into the box and went off the head of a Russian forward and then off the back of the hand of Spanish defender Gerard Pique.

Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers blew his whistle immediately. Pique knew he was busted.

A handball inside the penalty area by the defending team is an automatic penalty kick to the offense. If the handball is determined to be intentional, the offender is shown a straight red card, which means not only does he miss the remainder of that match, but he’s suspended for the next match as well.

Artem Dzuyba stepped to the mark for Russia. He blasted the ball past Spanish keeper David De Gea, and just like that, it was level 1-1.

It stayed that way throughout the second half, with Russia turning back numerous Spanish scoring chances. Kuiper blew his whistle after four minutes of stoppage time in the second half, sending the match to extra time.

In association football, extra time is 30 minutes, played in two 15-minute periods. The entire extra time is played, unlike the National Football League and National Hockey League, where sudden death applies.

From the opening of extra time, it was clear the Russians had one objective: get through the 30 minutes without giving up a goal, which would mean kicks from the penalty mark, or a shootout as Americans like to call it.

The Spaniards completed over 1,100 passes in the match and had nine shots on goal to Russia’s one, yet it did not score again after the early own goal. When the whistle blew to end the second 15-minute extra period, most of the crowd in Moscow cheered loudly.

They had good reason to.

Russian goalkeeper Igor Afkineev became his country’s conquering hero by stopping two Spanish kicks, which combined with a perfect 4-for-4 from Russian kickers, put the host nation into the quarterfinals.

Think about this. Russia, the lowest rated nation out of all 32 entered in this year’s World Cup (70th according to the most recent FIFA rankings prior to the tournament), is one of the last eight nations playing, yet Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, Argentina, Portugal and now Spain are all gone.

Face it. Russia would be nowhere, either, if the host nation doesn’t gain automatic entry into the World Cup. Qatar will make its debut in the 2022 World Cup because of this rule. Canada is on its knees right now hoping FIFA will allow all three hosts (Canada, Mexico and the US) automatic entry in 2026.

Denmark and Croatia kicked off in Nizhny Novgorod about 80 minutes after Spain-Russia ended.

The Danes scored in the first minute, only to yield the equalizer to the Croatians less than four minutes later. We’re in for a barnburner, a high scoring affair, right?

Nope.

Both teams had numerous opportunities to score throughout the remaining 84 1/2 minutes (plus stoppage time) of normal time and the first 24 minutes of extra time.

Then Croatia appeared to have its golden ticket to the quarterfinals.

Marcelo Brazavic took a pass at the top of the penalty area and maneuvered around Danish keeper Kasper Schmeichel, the man who helped Leicester City win the 2015-16 Premier League championship. Nobody stood between Brazavic and the goal, but Mathias Jorgensen hauled him down just before Brazavic could put the ball in the net.

Croatia was awarded a penalty kick. Jorgensen should have been shown a red card for denying the obvious scoring opportunity, but only received a yellow.

In association football, any player may attempt a penalty kick. This is different from hockey, where the player who is denied an obvious scoring opportunity must take the penalty shot; for instance, the Capitals could not select Alex Ovechkin to take a penalty shot if Brooks Orpik is the one taken down from behind.

Croatia selected its best striker, Luka Modric, to challenge Schmeichel. Modric, one of the stars for Real Madrid, is ranked right up there with Ronaldo, Messi and Luis Suarez as one of the world’s best, and the commentators on Fox gave Schmeichel next to no chance to stop Modric from scoring.

Schmeichel, however, has been tested time and again in practice by Jamie Vardy and by some of the world’s best playing for the Foxes, and he showed it, diving to his left and stoning Modric.

The match soon slipped into kicks, and the commentators were now favoring the Danish thanks to Schmeichel.

Schmeichel stopped two of the four kicks he faced, but his Croatian counterpart, Danjiel Subasic, was even more brilliant, denying Denmark three times out of five.

With the shootout level 2-2, Ivan Raktic turned downtown Zagreb into the French Quarter on Mardi Gras day when he blasted the ball past Schmeichel.

I had mixed emotions. Yes, I picked Croatia to win, and I actually have them losing in the final to Brazil. On the other hand, Leicester City is my favorite football team anywhere on the planet, and I would have loved for Schmeichel to be the hero.

It will be Russia vs. Croatia Saturday in Sochi, in the same stadium where the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics were held.

Kicks from the penalty mark were not introduced to the World Cup until 1978, and it wasn’t until 1982 that it was first used. That year, West Germany defeated France in the semifinals in (ironically) Barcelona. Two World Cup finals have been determined by kicks, Brazil over Italy in 1994 and Italy over France in 2006.

I hate kicks from the penalty mark. Hate it. It’s the equivalent of overtime in high school and college football. Penalty kicks are not real football. It’s whether or not a goalkeeper can guess which way the kicker will go when he takes the kick, and if the kicker doesn’t bungle it by clanging it off a post or the top of the goal, or firing it into the crowd the way Roberto Baggio did for Italy at the Rose Bowl in 1994.

I’ve gone on too long. I’ll save how I would decide a match for another post.

Tomorrow’s fun starts at 0900 with Mexico vs. Brazil, then continues at 1300 with Belgium vs. Japan. I would expect Brazil and Belgium to win, but this World Cup proves nothing is guaranteed.

Oh LeBron is going to sign with the Lakers. That’s all I have to say about that subject.