I don’t remember how it came up — probably because I thought it’d come up before — but at some point yesterday in the office, I started in about my love of indoor volleyball. My co-workers were surprised, and in turn, so was I. There are people who don’t love indoor volleyball?
I started watching in high school. My friend made the varsity team as a freshman, and because we all thought that was pretty cool, a few of us started hitting every home game. By our junior year, we had one of the best men’s (and women’s, actually) high school teams in the state, and groups of us started traveling for games. Our volleyball crowds were bigger than the ones most schools fielded for basketball.
The interest hung around through college. My friend went on to one of the nation’s best volleyball programs, and I caught enough games — including their national championship win — to remember why I loved watching in the first place. So when I was asked yesterday to catch some Olympic indoor volleyball and make my case for why it’s so great, I happily accepted. Conveniently, the U.S. was set to play Italy this morning in the start of the men’s quarterfinals.
On Sunday in Germany, Joachim Löw was everywhere all at once. In the Frankfurt airport, his frown was plastered across nearly every paper on the stand. The Frankfurter Allgemeine, a burly broadsheet not unlike the the Wall Street Journal in this country, featured an illustration of his face on its front page, crumpled and then flattened, dappled with distress. "Celebrated too early," its caption began. "A week ago we were enamored with [Löw]. He was a star. Since last Thursday's 2-1 result against Italy we now know that he didn't get everything right, but rather, he actually got a whole lot wrong . Grrrr."
In Hannover, a mustachioed man with a bookshelf of a belly stepped into the dining car of a train headed for Berlin with the Bild, perhaps Germany's most infamous tabloid, folded under his arm. "Another Final Without Us," the first half of its headline read. "Can one still believe in Jögi?" He pored over a post-match breakdown the entire way to the capital city, hunched over and frozen, breaking away only for another wheat beer. He had four in just over an hour.
Last time around, I did a preview of the quarterfinals. I picked Germany, Portugal, France, and Italy. If my success rate at crossing the street was as good as my success rate at picking knockout soccer matches, I would be dead. So let's take a look at the semifinals!
How They Got Here: Portugal pulled off the unlikely feat — or what seemed an unlikely feat before the tournament — of making it out of Group B, the Group of Death. After a fairly close loss to Germany, 1-0, Paulo Bento's side got a game-winning goal against Denmark from little-known Silvestre Varela and a world-beating performance from Cristiano Ronaldo in a 2-1 win against the Dutch.
The Czechs got their pants pulled down by Russia in one of the most one-sided losses of the tournament so far (4-1, on the opening day of Euro 2012). Since then, they've taken their chances very well (basically the key to winning tournament games). Their opening goal against Greece was like watching CCTV footage of a mugging.
Or at least let him speak his mind! On Monday, the Italian striker scored his second-ever goal for Italy, roasting Ireland defender John O'Shea with a volleyed hit to put Italy up, 2-0, on Ireland, in stoppage time, and secure their passage to the Euro 2012 quarterfinals out of Group C.
This past weekend, Spain played Italy in one of the marquee matchups of the Euro 2012 Group Stages. The match was held in Gdansk, Poland. It ended in a draw, 1-1, and Spain has subsequently started complaining, albeit informally, about the state of the Arena Gdansk pitch.