Friday, July 21, 2006

AFC East

Hey all...

I know I'm late... I'm very late. But, without further ado, here it is, my AFC East preview.
(By the way, this might be a little long... but I'd appreciate some feedback from you guys. Thanks!)

1. Miami Dolphins (11-5)

Head Coach: Nick Saban (2nd year)
2005 Record: (9-7)
Key Acquisitions: QB Daunte Culpepper, QB Joey Harrington, WR Kelly Campbell, CB Will Allen, OT L.J. Shelton, CB Andre Goodman, RB Fred Beasley, FS Deke Cooper.
Key Departures: QB Gus Frerotte, RB Ricky Williams (suspension), CB Reggie Howard, CB Sam Madison, S Tebucky Jones, LB Junior Seau

On the eve of training camp, the Dolphins look like perhaps the most improved team in the NFL. Last year, Nick Saban took an aging team, infused it with a little bit of youth, brought in a new philosophy, brought back Ricky Williams and led the team to a surprising 9-7 record.

This off-season, Saban continued the re-tooling. He brought in Dom Capers from Houston to help with the defense (Capers’ official title is that of Assistant Head Coach). He replaced the departing Scott Linehan with ex-Bills head coach and Steelers off. Coordinator Mike Mularkey. But most of all, after starting and finishing the year with Gus Frerotte as signal-caller, Saban decided to address the position by bringing in Daunte Culpepper to be his starting quarterback and Joey Harrington to back him up.

The word out of Miami right now is that Culpepper could be healthy enough to participate in maybe 1 pre-season game and definitely start the opener. It is being reported that the ex-Viking is looking really good right now, completing every throw on the field and showing good leadership skills a maturity on the field. Also, he is apparently getting along very well with Joey Harrington, who is also said to be looking really good. Harrington, who was rumored to be a bit lazy when in Detroit, has looked really sharp in practices and has been watching a lot of film. Whoever starts the opener, the Dolphins have clearly taken what was a weakness and turned it into a position of strength for the upcoming season.

While Culpepper will clearly be the man in charge of this offense, RB Ronnie Brown will be the heart of it. With Ricky Williams playing in the CFL this year because of his suspension, Brown will now have to carry the full load. Last year, after a bit of a slow start, Brown finished the season really strong. He proved that he could definitely play at a very high level in the NFL, and he showed an extremely rare set of skills. For a big man, he is extremely fluid and fast, and he might have one of the best pair of hands of any running back in the league. Now, all he has to do is translate that ability into consistency. He will be greatly helped by the acquisition of FB Fred Beasley from the 49ers. Travis Minor and Sammy Morris will give him a breather from time to time.

On defense, the Dolphins should be pretty good. While they are still led by veteran warriors Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas and Kevin Carter, this defense is getting younger, faster and whole lot nastier. LB Channing Crowder and CB Travis Daniels both made great strides last year and became big contributors by season’s end. This year, Nick Saban again went to players he scouted when he was a coach at LSU, and he picked up FS/CB Jason Allen from Tennessee. With the additions of Will Allen from the Giants, Deke Cooper from the Jaguars and the drafting of Jason Allen, it means the Dolphins will have 4 new starters in the secondary compared to last year’s opener. With Dom Capers now helping out designing schemes and trying to find new ways to get to the quarterback, this defense should be much improved.

In the end, 2006 will come down to one thing for the Dolphins: Quaterbacks. If either Culpepper or Harrington can perform adequately, this team should be quite formidable and vastly improved. If not, it will turn out to be once again their Achilles’ heel, as it has been since Dan Marino retired. Well, it says here that Culpepper will get back to his old form and lead the Dolphins atop the AFC East.

2. New England Patriots (9-7)

Head Coach: Bill Belichick (7th year)
2005 Record: (10-6)
Key Acquisitions: PK Martin Grammatica, S Tebucky Jones, CB Eric Warfield
Key Departures: LB Willie McGinnest, CB Tyrone Pool, PK Adam Vinatieri, OT Tom Ashworth, WR David Givens

For the Patriots, everything starts with Tom Brady. The superstar quarterback is the heart and soul of the team. He is the unquestioned leader of the team. And last year he had his best season yet. Brady threw for 26 TD’s and 4110 yds to go along with a stellar 71% completion rate. This year, despite the loss of WR David Givens, one of Brady’s favorite targets, the offense should be even more potent. New England drafted RB Laurence Maroney out of Minnesota in the first round to replace the aging Corey Dillon and then got a steal when they landed WR Chad Jackson of Florida in the second. Jackson is a big target who, if he can fine-tune his route running a little bit, could become a big factor in this offense early on. The Patriots have mostly a small, quick and agile receiving corps, and he will be a great complement to them with his ability to get jump balls and his knack for the acrobatic catch. As for Maroney, he is fast… really fast. He is the typical “Denver” back: a slasher-type runner with great vision and breakaway speed. He will be a great addition to the Pats, who can still use Dillon in goal-line situations. Where New England might have fallen off a little bit is on the offensive line, a unit that struggled last year and that just lost another starter, veteran OT Tom Ashworth. This unit will have to gel quickly and come together a lot better than last year or Maroney could have trouble finding holes. The truth that there is no real talent on this squad, and so the whole will indeed have to be more than the sum of the parts for this offense to have success.

On defense, the loss of Willie McGinnest will definitely hurt from a leadership standpoint. But let’s not forget that McGinnest also had a real knack for making big plays at crucial times. The Patriots will miss that a lot. Aside from that, there are still real questions in the secondary, and you have to wonder for how long Belichick will be able to keep doing it with smoke and mirrors. Yes, they will get S Rodney Harrison back, which should help offset the leadership loss of McGinnest, but Harrison is getting up in age, and coming back from a serious knee injury, you have to wonder how effective he will be. Being that this is a defense that finished 26th in the league last year, it’s probably scary for Pats fans to think it might get worse than that. This defense still features excellent players like DT’s Richard Seymour and Vince Wolfork and LB’s Teddy Bruschi and Roosevelt Colvin. But there is a lack of depth at every position. When everyone is healthy, NE boasts one of the best defenses in the league. But this is the NFL, when everyone being healthy at the same time is a dream.

Perhaps the biggest loss of the off-season for the Patriots was PK Adam Vinatieri. Vinatieri was never a league-leader type of kicker, but he always nailed that kick at the last second, whether it was the game-tying kick or the game-winning kick. And when you look at this year’s edition of the Patriots, you will see that that some of those late-game heroics will be missing. No McGinnest to recover a fumble with 12 seconds left. No Vinatieri to win the game in OT. No Ty Law to come up with the big interception. A lot of those memories were created by players who no longer wear the Pats uniform. Brady still does, and so the Pats will be players again this year, but unfortunately for them, they will fall short of the post-season.

3. Buffalo Bills (8-8)

Head Coach: Dick Jauron (1st year)
2005 Record: (5-11)
Key Acquisitions: S Matt Bowen, QB Crag Nall, WR Peerless Price, RB Anthony Thomas, DT Larry Tripplett
Key Departures: DT Sam Adams, TE Mark Campbell, S Lawyer Milloy, C Trey Teague, OT Mike Williams

2006 will mark the return of Marv Levy to the franchise he helped reach the Super Bowl 4 years in a row at the beginning of the 90’s. This time, Levy returns as General Manager instead of head coach, and it is a return that seems to be more than welcomed by the people of Western New York. As far as I am concerned, I believe this is a great move by owner Ralph Wilson. Levy is a great football mind who has won everywhere he has been. His Buffalo teams of the 90’s were built around character players like Jim Kelly, Andre Reed, Bruce Smith, Darryl Talley and Mark Kelso, all players who played bigger than their talent because they had great heart. And this time around, Levy seems to have taken a similar approach, getting rid of older, less hungry veterans like Lawyer Milloy, Sam Adams and Eric Moulds. To replace them, he brought in role players with a chip on their shoulders, guys who he is banking on to play bigger than their potential.

On defense, S Matt Bowen lacks range, but he can put a licking on receivers from time to time and is solid against the run. Larry Tripplett was a backup who saw spot duty in Indianapolis, but that was on a line that featured Dwight Freeney, Corey Simon and Robert Mathis. He is quick and more agile than strong, and he should fit in well next to rookie John McCargo, who is probably going to wind up as the other starter. Many insiders said Levy reached for McCargo in the first round, but none of them doubt the potential of the young man, nor do they doubt his dedication to the game. At linebacker, the Bills will be more than happy to welcome back Takeo Spikes, after seeing him miss most of last year. Even at almost 30, Spikes is still one of the most active and productive linebackers in the league. On the strong side, Jeff Posey has quietly developed into one of the better linebackers in the league, and in the middle London Fletcher has a motor that never stops. The defensive backfield, though, should once again be the strong point of this defense. Anchored by ballhawk cornerbacks Terrence McGee and Nate Clements, this secondary is strong at every position. The addition of Bowen will help bring some muscle to it, and will also ease the development of future star Donte Whitner. Whitner can play both strong and free safety, and is a killer tackler. He has great range and good speed. He will probably get some time behind Bowen. The free safety spot is manned by aging veteran Troy Vincent. But Vincent is the leader of this defense. He is the one who calls the plays on the field. At 35, he is still a top player.

While the defense will probably be the beating heart of Levy’s Bills, the offense is what will determine if the Bills can contend or if they are doomed to mediocrity. More specifically, the biggest factor will be the play of quarterbacks Kelly Holcomb and J.P. Losman. Holcomb is the savvy veteran who will never impress you with his arm strength but who doesn’t make that back breaking mistake. Losman is still young and somewhat immature, and that is reflected in his play. If he is to ever start for the Bills, this has to be the year he comes of age. Luckily for both, they have RB Willis McGahee to hand off to. McGahee is a hot head who is way too full of himself, but he is still a really good, really tough running back. This year, Buffalo will also have Anthony Thomas (Dallas) to back him up. Remember the Bills didn’t have a real backup after having traded Travis Henry to Tennessee last year. At wide receiver, the Bills most potent threat is 3rd year man Lee Evans. Evans has had 2 pretty good first seasons with the team, and with Moulds gone, he now takes over the role of #1 receiver. Roscoe Parrish showed some good things in his rookie year, and he will be counted on to be the deep threat. Josh Reed has great hands, but lacks speed, and is best suited for playing in the slot. Levy brought back Peerless Price, who left a few years back for his big pay day, hoping that he can recapture the magic of his last years with the Bills.

In my mind, the Bills do not have the talent to compete for the playoffs or the division title. But they will be better than they were last year. I am not such a big fan of Dick Jauron, but I trust Levy and I think that both will bring the Bills back from the dead. Clearly, they have ways to go, but this year will be a nice stepping stone for them, just like last year was for Nick Saban.

4. New York Jets (4-12)

Head Coach: Eric Mangini (1st year)
2005 Record: (4-12)
Key Acquisitions: CB Andre Dyson, QB Patrick Ramsey, C Trey Teague, DE Kimo Von Oelhoffen
Key Departures: DE John Abraham, OT Jason Fabini, CB Ty Law, C Kevin Mawae, DT James Reed

For the Jets, 2006 will seemingly be another rebuilding year. Last year, they were an aging team who failed to accomplish anything. So, during the off-season, head coach Herman Edwards got his wish when the Jets gave up their rights to him in exchange from a couple of draft picks from the Chiefs. In his seat is now Eric Mangini, 35, who served one year under Bill Belichick as defensive coordinator of the NE Patriots. Mangini is young man who is very well regarded among league circles, but there are many out there who doubt he is ready to become the head man. Well, whether he is or not, he will have his work cut out for him in his first year.

The Jets are an offensively challenged football team. Their workhorse for years, RB Curtis Martin has finally started to show signs of being on the decline. Last year was the first time he was injured for a prolonged period of time, and there are doubts as to whether he can fully recover from these injuries. If he can’t, it could prove very problematic for the Jets, who do not have a true #2 back behind him. Derrick Blaylock currently sits second on the depth chart. The situation at quarterback is just as problematic. The incumbent is Chad Pennington, who has had 2 surgeries on his throwing elbow in the last 2 years. When you consider that he never had a really strong arm to begin with, and that he is better suited for a west-coast type of passing game, his chances of having any success this year are quite slim. Patrick Ramsey was brought in from Washington to challenge for the starting job, but while he is tough as nails, he needs to learn to release the ball a lot quicker and not take so many sacks. Behind an o-line that just lost two starters and will now feature 2 rookies (2 very highly-touted rookies, but 2 rookies nonetheless), that could be a recipe for disaster. The Jets are much better equipped at wide receiver, where Justin McCareins and Laveranues Coles form a pretty good tandem, but they need to find someone to stretch the field.

On defense, the Jets are coming off a year where they finished in the top half of the league in defense. But they just lost DE John Abraham and his 10.5 sacks, as well as top backup James Reed (also on the d-line) and CB Ty Law and his league-leading 10 interceptions. There is no doubt that Mangini’s presence will help offset some of those losses, but these are big time players that will not take the field for them this year. Mangini will probably experiment with 3-4 and 4-3 fronts and will find ways to get to the quarterback even without Abraham. But these are not necessarily his type of players, and things could get hard for the young coach at times.

There is no way, in my mind, that the Jets can have any type of sustained success this year. This will be a year full of growing pains for the New York fans. But if Mangini is as good as advertised, it could be worth it in the long run.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Samsonov signs with Montreal


Just to piss off Nick The Dick a little bit, I will discuss Hockey yet one more time. But this time around, we have real news to report: yesterday, after having sent Richard Zednik packing for Washington and acquired Mike Johnson from Phoenix, Bob Gainey inked Sergei Samsonov to a 2-year contract worth a total of $7,000,000.

While I really like Sergei Samsonov, I think that the other 2 moves are much more significant for the Canadiens. In a way, Samsonov is being brought in with the hopes that he can replace the production that Zednik once gave this team. Last year, Zednik went through a very long lethargy and then got lazy on top of it and quickly fell into Gainey’s doghouse. So Gainey and Carbonneau are probably hoping that Samsonov can pick up that slack. The only problem that I see is that the Russian might be a little too much of the same for Montreal. Samsonov is clearly not a physical player, and if he is to play on a line with either Koivu or Ribeiro and Kovalev, he might find that there isn’t much spac out there for 3 “not too big” guys.

I saw him play a lot towards the end of the season, when he got traded to Edmonton, and Samsonov was clearly more at ease when he was playing on a line with Raffi Torres and Jarret Stoll. Torres is a physical guy, and he created a lot of space on the ice for the diminutive forward to play with. But in the playoffs, Craig McTavish tried to play him with Stoll and Ales Hemsky, and then replacing Hemsky by Radek Dvorak, and while he had a few good moments, Samsonov was pretty invisible out there. I think it will be important for him to play on a line with either Higgins or Ryder, otherwise it might not take too much time for the fans to jeer him a little. Still, he is a good player, and he will help the power play a lot, so it is a good pickup.

Getting rid of Zednik was a must. He had to go, having become almost a cancer in the dressing room. Plus, knowing Samsonov was coming into the fold, his salary needed to be dumped. But personally, I think the best move of the day was acquiring Mike Johnson from Phoenix, for essentially nothing (a 4th round pick). At 6’2”, 200 lbs, Johnson is a pretty big guy. He is not the most offensively gifted player around, but he can still contribute offensively, as show his 54 points last year and 63 in 2002-2003. And while he normally mans the right wing, he is versatile enough to also play center (as he did when he played for Toronto and in parts of last year with Phoenix). What I like about him, also, is that he is very responsible defensively as well. He can kill penalties. He can be trusted in his own zone. Johnson is not a spectacular player, nor will he score 30 goals for the Canadiens. But what he will do is show up every night (unlike Samsonov, Ribeiro, Kovalev, Markov and others), he will hit, he will kill penalties, he will play whatever position Carbonneau wants him to play and he will contribute 15-20 goals on the year. And the fact is, the Canadiens do not have enough players like him, and that is why I like this pickup so much.

By the way, starting next Monday, I will begin my 2006 NFL Season Preview. This will be the place to come to know what your team will look like and how it will do. I will do this over 3 weeks, covering 2 divisions/week. On Monday, I will start with the AFC East.

Have a good weekend everyone!

Dwarf out

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Ricky Williams and the CFL

Ok, before I begin, I would like to open a little parenthesis. Some of my most faithful readers have showed great frustration over the fact that I didn't cover the World Cup finale. To them I say this: I'm sorry but I didn't really care for that game, and I wasn't about to write on something I don't care about. Oh, and I didn't see the game either. And I'm pissed Italy won, so it's all for the best anyway.

I will get to Ricky Williams and the CFL in a moment, but first, since I was on the subject of the World Cup, I would like to congratulate Huy Nguyen, a.k.a Padahuy, a.k.a Veillotron's Protege, on winning the WC pool. Actually, he didn't just win it, he killed us all. Congrats, old friend! And may your ass be fully lubrified when you insert that bloody trophy in it!

Now, for those who have been living under a rock for the last few months, Ricky Williams, after being suspended from the NFL for a year, signed a contract to play with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL this year. After missing training camp, Williams had a rough pre-season, carrying only 15 times for 53 yards (no TD, 1 fumble). He did, however, have a very good opening game, in which he rushed for 96 yards on 18 carries (5.3 yds/carry), and while he didn't score, he did come up with a 39-yarder at a crucial point in the game. Williams would later go on to score his first CFL touhdown in the 3rd game of the season in a loss against the B.C. Lions. But to this date, the Argos are 1-3, and Williams has shown only modest numbers (53 carries, 214 yds, 1 TD), good only for fifth in the league in rushing.

Seeing Williams struggle a little bit in the CFL got me to think about how the league might not be as bad as we sometimes perceive it. When you think about it, there are a few CFL greats that had very productive NFL careers (think Warren Moon, Jeff Garcia and, of course, Doug Flutie). And NFL players who tought they could come in and dominate have fallen flat on their faces (Lawrence Phillips, Onterrio Smith, Andre Ware, only to name a few). On the other hand, Robert Edwards rushed for over 1,000 yds for the Patriots before he blew out his knee. When he tried to come back, he made the Miami roster before eventually getting cut. Yet, his style has translated really well to the CFL and now he starts for the Montreal Alouettes. The jury is still out on Ricky Williams, but so far, the ex-NFL rushing leader has certainly not exceeded any expectation.

The fact is, there is no doubt that the best football talent in the world can be found in the NFL. No one can deny that. And anybody who thinks the CFL is not a second-rate league is lying to themselves. But where the CFL deserves a lot of credit that it perhaps doesn't get enough of is in the fact that it gives an environment for other great players to show what they can do, an environment that the NFL does not necessarily provide. The bigger field, fewer downs and larger endzones all give smaller, quicker players more of a chance. In the NFL, size has become so important. Generally speaking, bigger receivers are better because they can get to the jump balls, because they give a bigger target to the quaterback. Everything is so tight and happens so fast in the NFL, bigger backs usually have more success because they can break more tackles. And because offensive players have gotten bigger, so have defensive players as well. But in the CFL, smaller, quicker players have the room they need to operate, to create freely. When no one in the NFL wanted to give Flutie another chance because he was too small, the CFL gave offered him an environment where his size would be offset by his ability to run and take advantage of the open field.

As for Ricky Williams, whatever happens to him this year will matter little as far as next season. Williams will be back in the NFL, and he will be good. But what his first few games this year have proven is that in the CFL, while the level of play might be a bit lower, even an ex-NFL rushing leader in the prime of his career can come in and struggle. It is simply a different game.

Dwarf out

Friday, July 07, 2006

How to be a horrible GM in the NHL...

Sometimes, in the crazy world of the National Hockey League, General Managers make odd decisions that leave us wondering what was going through their heads. For instance, when Mike O'Connell, then the Bruins GM, traded away Joe Thornton to the Sharks, we couldn't do anything but be shocked at the fact that he had just traded his franchise player for an average foward and a pretty good defenseman.

At other times, some GM's really manage to blow the minds of every hockey fan in the world by pulling a series of moves that make no sense whatsoever. Case in point: Dave Nonis of the Vancouver Canucks.

Dave Nonis came in last year and inherited a pretty good team. When Brian Burke left the Canucks, they had a spectacular offense, a decent defense and adequate goaltending. In his first year at the helm, Nonis allowed #3 and #4 defensemen Brent Sopel and Marek Malik to sign with other teams, and did not replace them. He did, however, bring in Anson Carter, who wound up being a great success playing with the Sedin twins. But in the end, with Ed Jovanovski getting hurt (and the defense having no depth whatsoever), and with Dan Cloutier missing almost all of the year, the Canucks missed the postseason for the first time in years.

So, this year, Nonis decided the team needed an overhaul. Now, there's nothing wrong with that, but when you do make changes, you try to make your team better, not worse. Anyway, his first move was to can Mark Crawford, one of the best coaches in the league. It seems that Nonis was intent on trading away Todd Bertuzzi, and I agree that 'Big Bert' needed to be moved, just like Dany Heatley needed to be moved a year earlier. On top of not being very effective last year, Bertuzzi was eating up over 5 millions of the salary cap, and the Canucks needed some room in order to be able to re-sign Jovanovski. But instead of trying to get a younger and cheaper version of Bertuzzi, or using his biggest trade bait to shore up the defense, he traded him for Roberto Luongo, a goaltender who has never won a playoff game and that would eventually wind up costing 2 more millions than Bertuzzi would have. Also, we can't forget that in the trade, Nonis included #6 defenseman Bryan Allen, and #2 goalie Alex Auld. That trade essentially left the Canucks with a 7 million/year #1 goalie and a 2.8 million/year #2 goalie.

Of course, in the aftermath of that trade, the Canucks, even more cash-strapped than they were, had no chance of re-signing 'Jovo'. And on July 1st, he signed with the Pheonix Coyotes. Being in a position where he had to get a defenseman on his roster to "replace" #55, Nonis went out and overpaid for Willie Mitchell. In order to fix his new 10 million/year problem in nets, he traded away Dan Cloutier to the Kings for a pair of draft picks. Still, the Canucks were in a tough position in regards to the cap, as they have a lot of money tied up in Luongo, Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrisson, and they still have to ink the Sedin twins. So, this week again, Nonis came out and said they wouldn't attempt to re-sign Anson Carter, his one good acquisition since he inherited Burke's position. Furthermore, the Canucks might have to trade away Morrisson if they intend to fill out the roster with NHL-level players.

So, to recap, when Dave Nonis came into the Vancouver Canucks general manager's job, he had a team that boasted Markus Naslund, Brendan Morrisson, Todd Bertuzzi and the Sedin twins on attack, a defense that was lead by Ed Jovanovski and Matthias Ohlund and the solid goaltending duo of Dan Cloutier and Alex Auld. Just a little bit over a year later, the Canucks now have a potentially great goaltender and a pretty good defenseman in Willie Mitchell, but the price they have paid for it is the departure Todd Bertuzzi, 4 of their top 6 defensemen, the possible exit of Brendan Morrisson. When the Sedin twins eventually are re-signed, the Canucks will have over 34 millions in paid salaries, with 4 defensive and 5 offensive slots to fill on the roster. Luongo didn't want to stay in Florida because he had had enough of their porous defense and lack of offense. He just might find out this year that Vancouver will be experiencing some of the same problems.

Indeed, what Nonis has accomplished is giving every hockey fan out there a lesson in how to be a horrible GM in the NHL.

Enjoy the weekend everyone!

Dwarf out.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Chris Pronger to Anaheim...

Hey everyone!

Sorry I haven't been around more in the last few days, but I was in Montreal and I've been so freakin' busy... You'll see a lot more of me around here in the next few days as well as the next few weeks.

First off, if you don't know yet, Chris Pronger has just been traded to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Jeoffrey Lupul and a bunch of draft picks. While the Oilers didn't get full value in return for their star defenceman, Lupul is young, and he is very good. He could really blossom in Edmonton, and will fit right in with guys like Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky and Jarret Stoll. I expect Kevin Lowe will now try really hard to re-sign Jaroslav Spacek, and since pretty much all free-agent defencemen have been signed, I wouldn't be surprised if he tries to get one through a trade. In the meantime, he did manage to re-sign Fernando Pisani and Dwayne Roloson, and both were priorities.

After seeing the Oilers fall to the 'Canes in 7 games, on Saturday I had to witness England fall in penalties to Portugal. I'll tell you that much: it was a heartbreaker. Frank Lampard, perhaps the best european player in the tournament, once again could not convert glorious chances into goals. England could've really used his touch throughout the tournament, but he never quite found it. John Terry also missed the net on an excellent chance in the second half. But in the end, England's lack of a quality goaltender is what gave them in. When Robinson needed to shine, he disapeared and let in 3 goals on penalties, while on Portugal's side, their golaie seemed to be almost on every ball. When you consider that Beckham was out with a foot injury, that Michael Owen had been missing for a couple of games and that Wayne Rooney was out on a red card, England's chances were quite slim entering that shootout (or whatever they call it). 2006 is a year every English fan will look back on wondering what could've been. This was a good team, but they couldn't come through in the clutch.

Saturday was not all bad, though, as France did defeat the Brazilian squad. And since we, at The Dwarf's Musings, hate Brazil, that was pretty sweet. France will now face off against Portugal, and with Thierry Henry, arguably the best striker in the world, and Zidane on fire, they have now become really dangerous. I think France will dominate Portugal and head over to the finals. In the other match, Germany will face off against Italy. And while Italy did clobber Ukraine on Friday, they have hardly faced a worthy opponent since the start of the tournament. I think that with Klose and Ballack playing really well, and with the home crowd on their side, Germany will take the victory and face France in the finals.

That's it for now, dudes and dudettes... I'll se you later in the week.

Dwarf out