David Hirshey will write regularly during the World Cup.
OK, so it wasn't a classic. It wasn't even the best match of the day (anyone see the thrilling comeback victory by the Ivory Coast, or, as Mischa Barton and I call them, "The IC?"). But that's what happens when you hype a game between two of soccer's superpowers who have little to gain and quite a bit to lose.
Don't get me wrong: The anticipation of seeing Argentina and Oranje resume their storied rivalry is enough to make certain Deadspin columnists (no names, of course) claim to be, cough, cough, a little under the weather. After all, who among us can forget where we were in 1978 — and yes, I realize some of you weren't BORN; it's a comic setup, roll with it — when the post-Johann Cryuff Dutch took host Argentina into overtime before losing 3-1 on two goals from the brilliant Mario Kempes. Or how about the gem in 1998, when the great Dennis Bergkamp brought down a 40-yard rainbow from Ronald de Boer with his instep as gently as if he were catching a snowflake on his tongue (yes, I know I'm a shameless Arsenal fetishist, continue rolling with it) before scoring the goal that eliminated the Argentines 2-1 in the quarters. This is a rivalry steeped in history and drama.
So how to explain the double bagel the two teams conspired to produce yesterday? Well, for starters, they were either resting many of their starters, or protecting them from picking up a second yellow. Moreover, they probably convinced themselves there wasn't a whole lot at stake. That is if you subscribe to the theory — and I don't — that one man's Portugal is another man's Mexico. I'd much rather take my chances with Mexico; while they are capable of cunning footwork and nails-hard defense, they also suffer from the soccer equivalent of ADD, manifesting itself in blown penalty kicks and bone-headed fouls.
So why did yesterday's game pretty much suck? The truth is, it didn't. Sure, if you're a soccerphobe like Kornheiser, Lupica and Leitch, you'll point out that this is yet another of those soul-crushing nil-nil draws that will forever keep soccer from dribbling into the Big Four (they still have a hockey league, right?). But that's like complaining that you had to sit through a Pedro Martinez-Tom Glavine pitcher's duel (they still have a baseball league, right?). (Ed. Note: Yes, they're on the same team. That doesn't mean they can't duel.) As for me, I saw this as an opportunity to watch the Argentines weave their attacking magic, to wallow in the incandescent skills of its two young conjurers, Mesi and Tevez, and, of course, to take the afternoon off. So it may have ended in a tie, but for me it was win-win.
While the game never fully burst into life, there were moments to savor. Incredible as it may seem, Mesi and Tavez had begun Argentina's two previous matches on the bench, a testament both to how loaded the Argentines are in attack and to coach Jose Pekerman's savvy nurturing of his prodigies. But Pekerman, looking ahead to the unforgiving competition of the knockout stages, knew he had to get them match-fit, so they started here in place of Crespo and Saviola. Mesi has been anointed the new Maradona by the old one, but it is Tevez, with his stocky frame and pit-bull menace who reminds me more of a young El Diablo. He is always moving forward, running at defenders as if they were stationary cones and looking to unleash his ferocious right-footed shot. In the first half yesterday, he got behind the Dutch defense with an audacious nutmeg and paid for his insouciance a minute later when Dirk Kuyt, in a fairly decent WWE move, grabbed him by the neck and threw him to the mat, er, ground. Undaunted, Tevez kept coming, firing five shots on goal, including a thunderous 20-yard drive in the 73rd minute that had Van der Saar at full stretch.
Holland's resilience and composure in the face of Argentina's firepower was impressive, especially with Van Basten resting five starters. It's not impossible that these two teams will meet again at the World Cup. I've already circled the date on my calendar — July 9 in Berlin.