So in that vein, here are six things we learned from yesterday's friendlies:
- Let's chill on Portugal's 4-0 curbstomp of Spain. Great win over the world champions, but it was a friendly. five months ago, Portugal had no answer for Spain's possession game, nor for the Spanish defense. If this one meant something and Spain sent a full complement to Lisbon, methinks this might have been a tad tighter. The big winner here was Paulo Bento. The new Portugal manager is the only thing that's new and shiny and different since South Africa. This is a big notch on his belt and lots of brownie points with his players, many of whom are close to his contemporaries.
- Boy did Nani screw Cristiano Ronaldo out of a legendary goal. Ronaldo put a litany of moves out of his playbook down the left side of the Spain defense; the last guy to get burned was Gerard Pique (pick up your jock at lost and found Senor Pique). Ronaldo made himself some space and lifted a gorgeous ball over Pique and Casillas into a wide open goal. Nani, who was in an offside position but not active on the play, dashed in and headed the ball. Some claim the ball was in already--maybe it was. But either way, Nani's action was enough to prompt the referee blow the whistle and nullify the goal. Too bad. Ronaldo was pissed. Nani apologized. End of the day, no biggie. That said, the cuffs are off Ronaldo with the national team and it's crazy how fluid the Portugal offense is. And Nani is a giant in the making; he deserved a goal on his first shot of the game.
- As for Spain, again, chill. They're still the best. They'll be in the 2012 Euro final.
- England loses 2-1 to France, horrors. But the worse horror is the fact that Steven Gerrard was still in a meaningless game more than 80 minutes in, and naturally, he gets hurt and Liverpool is without their best player for at least four weeks. This kind of irresponsibility is what gives friendlies a bad name. People are already sour on the international game, and when Fabio Capello allows his ego to supercede the availability and health of his best players--who are paid by clubs--these are more black marks. Liverpool is pissed, and they should be. This is a meaningless game and managers must be responsible enough to give the biggest stars a token run and turn the stage over to emerging players. What better way to evaluate them? Huh Fabio? Fabio? Any time now?
- Speaking of emerging players, how about the U.S.'s Juan Agudelo? The look on the kid's face--he's 17--was worth a million bucks after he scored to beat South Africa yesterday, 1-0, in RSA. He made a pretty mature run to score; he followed the play, picked his spot to pounce on a loose ball in the box before he buried high into the goal. Emotional, fantastic and just what these friendlies are supposed to be about. Play young players, see how they deal with the environment and whether they can do something positive. A-pluses all around for Agudelo and coach Bob Bradley.
- In case you've forgotten, Lionel Messi is the best player in the world. Now Argentina's tiny wonder played the whole way against Brazil, totally shattering my thoughts above in the Gerrard section but what the hell. His goal to beat Brazil in injury time just reinforces his brilliance and stature as the game's best player. He's got the best first step in sports--yes better than NBA guys--and the best balance. He slaloms between players, always stays on his feet--unless he's ravaged by an opponent--and usually scores when he creates his own space. His goal yesterday was genius because he doesn't have to hit a bomb of a shot with tons of effect on it to be great. He runs to space that isn't there, finds his own space and within a fraction of a second, unleashes whatever kind of shot necessary to score. Yesterday's grass-hugging roller was agonizingly slow, but equally unstoppable. He's the best. Enough said.