Sport

It’s Coming Home

I recant. I take it all back. I bow my head in shame. Well, sort of. I did at least provide a few caveats in my pessimistic prediction of how England might fare in the World Cup. It has transpired that all things are indeed possible. We have definitely had more than our fare share of luck. And we are still dreaming. Maybe, just maybe, football is coming home after all. Maybe. Or has my new found optimism cursed us? We football fans can be a supersticious lot…

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#TBT, Sport

#TBT Viva Mexico

We have just gone past the half way point of the World Cup. Two weeks left of the greatest show on earth. A fortnight more of socially acceptable xenophobia – please do, by all means, mention the war. Thus far, it is familiar fare that leaves one with a certain sense of de ja vu. The Hun have been sent packing short of Moscow. The Mexicans, in keeping with history, have been beaten but survive to fight another day. The English threaten to surprise, but their limitations are all too apparent. Disappointment, once again, beckons. But at least it won’t be at the hands of Jerry.

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Sport

The Definition of Football

Latin America is not a happy hunting ground for Germany. The last grand battle they faced in these waters finished when the sailors aboard the Graf Spee scuttled their own ship, rather than face defeat. But this time round, they came out all guns blazing, and it was their opponents who self destructed. Not since the French in 1940 has the world seen such a complete capitulation in the face of a German attack. And like the French, the humiliation was complete when the Brazilians decided to collaborate, providing standing ovations and oles as the Germans scored, teased and tormented their hapless opponents.

The totally unnecessary war references are there purely because, as a Brit, I am culturally obliged to relate any German success, or failure for that matter, to World War Two. And to mock the French. It’s what we do. On Tuesday we watched something special. Something for the ages. The Germans lived up to their stereotype in 90 minutes of slick, ruthless, even brutal efficiency. They truly blitzed the enemy, leaving them dazed and confused. And thoroughly beaten. To their credit, and unlike the French, the Brazilians didn’t surrender.

I am, of course, referring to the Germans 7 to 1 trouncing of Brazil in the first World Cup 2014 semi final. How does this game rank in the history of the sport? Football is a game with many facets, and for each facet that is game that is held as the prime example. A game that embodies a virtue, for good or bad, and that is remembered forever. A game that sets the standard by which all other games of that nature will be compared to. A game that is embedded into the global consciousness of the sport. Never to be forgotten. There are ten games which have shaped this sport. Here they are…

The Battle of Santiago

Sport is a competitive cauldron of testosterone fuelled men, determined to emerge triumphant. Sometimes competitors snap and lash out. Swing an elbow. A discreet headbutt. Or have a little nibble of someone’s shoulder. But the finest example of on-field physical combat came in Santiago during a game between Chile an Italy. Neither side left the field with their dignity intact. But the Italians departed with their reputation in tatters. The first foul occured after just twelve seconds. The first sending off, for a punch, after 12 minutes. Technically he was sent off. In reality he was dragged off the pitch by police, having refused to go for an early shower. The police were forced to intervene several more times as fists continued to fly. The referee, an Englishman, did little to intervene. He did go on to invent the yellow and red card though.

 

The Russian Linesman

Dodgy offside calls, missed fouls, wrongly given or ruled out goals – the poor referee and his linesmen have long been getting it in the neck for getting things wrong. But the grand daddy of dubious decision belongs to a Russian. Actually, he wasn’t Russian. He was from Azerbaijan. But everyone thinks he was Russian. In 1966 at Wembley, in extra time of a thrilling final between England and Germany, Geoff Hurst thundered a shot against the underside of the bar and over the line. Or not over the line. No one really knows. It will never be settled one way or the other. The referee wasn’t sure. But the Russian linesman, he was sure. He waved his flag, had a chat to the ref and the goal was given. England went on to score another, Geoff Hurst netting his third, the only hat-trick ever scored in a final.

 

The Shock

A David versus Goliath battle always catches the imagination. When David wins…well, you’d write a chapter for a book about it, wouldn’t you. At the very least. There are plenty of candidates for shock results. England’s defeat by the USA in Brazil 1950 sent shock waves through the world of football. But perhaps the honour of the greatest shocks belongs to North Korea. The communists out east played a starring role in the World Cup in England. But before the Russian linesman got to take to the stage, a team of North Korean no-hopers took on the might of Italy.  A beat them.

The Match of the Century

The 1970 tournament in Mexico was the the tournament that just kept on giving. Early on, the two giants of the game at the time played a fabulous match. England were the reigning champions, taking on the favourites Brazil. The game is famous for the greatest save ever made, one of the finest tackles and an iconic photo of two true champions embracing in an era when sport was still sport.

But this was not the Match of the Century. That came in the semi final. To be fair, the first 90 minutes were very ordinary. Dull, even. But with extra time under way, the two giants of European football slugged it out, trading blow for blow. Video fails to catch the drama, tension and fear that enveloped the game as it headed towards a goal fest climax. Italy triumphed over the Germans and went through to the final.

Perhaps in hindsight they’d wish they hadn’t. Because…

The Beautiful Game

It is said that the English invented the game. And Brazil made it beautiful. Both statements are correct. The latter sentiment was etched into history in the final of the 1970 World Cup. A magnificent Brazil played the game how it should be played. The way you’d play in your dreams. With flair, daring, genius. The defensive fortress of Italy was put to the test by the finest attacking team in history. An immoveable object against an irresistible force. One had to give, and it was the Italians, swept aside by a relentless tide of green and yellow sporting gods. The fourth goal trascended normal sport. It was poetry in motion. Moving art. Pele, the conductor of a footballing orchestra of unsurpassed quality defined what football is, was and forever should be.

 

German Blitzkrieg

In American football, a blitz is a defined as an attack on a player as soon as the ball is snapped. He is charged and taken out of the game. This isn’t a move that is technically permitted in normal football. Not within the rules. Normally. How apt that it was a German who imported the move. There have been many moments of brutality on the football field, but no single incident springs so readily to mind that that inflicted on the French player Patrick Battiston by the German keeper Harald Schumacher.

Astonishingly, the referee failed to even so much as award a foul. How he felt that Battiston ended up on the floor unconscious with smashed up teeth and vertebrae – well, only he knows. The game itself was also a classic, decided on penalties after the sides had drawn 3-3 after the end of extra time.

 

Death of Football

Brazil made football beautiful. Their great teams of 1958, 1962 and 1970 have gone down in footballing folklore. They played with a sense of flair, panache and imagination that every other team in the world aspires to. They set the bar for footballing excellence. But it’s been a while since the Brazilians themselves have managed to field a team that comes close to reaching that bar.

The last time? That would be Spain in 1982. Zico, Socrates, Junior, Eder and Falcao provided an attacking force that lived up to all expectations. True, their defence was known to be a little suspect. But that shouldn’t have mattered. They sent ten goals flying past their three opponents in the first group stage.  In the second round group of three the comfortably despatched fierce rivals and reigning champions Argentina 3 to 1. Which left them needing just a single point from their second game in order to proceed to the semi finals.

It was to be another battle of traditional flair, wrapped in a Brazilian flag, against a functional, defensive Italian team spearheaded by Paolo Rossi – a player who should have been serving the final year of a three year ban for match fixing. What transpired was a game for the ages, but a horror show for the purist. And the death of football as it should be played. At least from a Brazilian perspective.

 

Hand of God

There is a fine line between madness and genius. And plenty of examples to prove the point. Diego Maradona being football’s prime example. When he wasn’t shooting up drugs or shooting at journalists, he was scoring the most sublime goals the game has seen. He was famed for single handedly dragging inferior teams to ultimate glory. Yet, he could also express the darker side of his nature of the pitch too.

In less that five minutes of mayhem and magic in the Estadio Azteca in 1986, he demonstrated both facets of his character. In a quarter final against England, fuelled into a fervently hostile clash thanks to the recent Falklands War, Maradona first cheated his way to a goal – the infamous Hand of God – and then scored the finest individual goal the tournament has ever seen. The rest, as they say, is history. And the World Cup was won a week or so later, and on a plane back to Buenos Airies.

 

The Comeback

Every game so far has been a World Cup games, featuring national teams. Not this one. But this one is special. It captured the imagination of football fans across the world. It is the very definition of a comeback. Sure, there have been games where a team has pulled back a greater deficit. But never on a stage this big. Never against a team of the likes of AC Milan. Never in the style of this Liverpool team.

What do you want from your game of football? Forty thousand screaming red fans? A giant and the underdog? A first half crushing that would demoralise your opponents and cast them into despair? A rousing rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone as the teams return to the field for the second half. Seven minutes of insanity as the scores are brought level? Two ridiculously improbable saves? And to finish, the drama of a penalty shoot out. Check, check, check, check, check, check and check.

 

The Crying Game

And we come full circle, ending the post where I started it. With Brazil’s humiliating defeat at the hands of Germany. Yes, most other teams have suffered a humiliation from time to time. The Germans are still trying to forget being thumped 5-1 by England in their own Olympic stadium in 2002. In turn England are trying to forget about their German thumping four years ago. Or at least, we will remind you of the scandalously disallowed Lampard goal.

But this was a World Cup semi final. In Brazil’s own World Cup. With so much Brazilian hype prior to this game. To be fair, many people saw it coming. More than a month ago, when Brazil manager picked Jo and Fred over Ronaldinho, Kaka or Coutinho, the signs were there. Tactically they’ve been off. Going forward they were toothless. They were fortunate to get a result against Croatia, were held easily by Mexico, and were lucky to get past Chile. They played better against Colombia but also showed their nasty side and were fortunate to get past them as well.

But still. No matter how you word it. No matter what excuses you make. From this point forward, any team can suffer any result and still say, ‘well things could be worse – we could be Brazil’.

 

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Sport

Death On Grass

Thirty years ago, Torvill and Dean enchanted the world at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo with their rendition of Bolero. Their performance won gold and set records as they scored a set of perfect sixes. Their routine changed ice skating. They creatively elongated their performance to fit the musical score by staying on their knees at the beginning, and they introduced ‘death on ice’ to the sport with their finale, collapsing on to the white stuff as if they’d been shot. It started a trend. Before you knew it, skaters were finishing their dances with more and more elaborate death routines. Appearing to have simply been shot was ‘old school’. Skaters mimicked being mown down by Gatling guns, or from being slashed with a thousand cyanide laced blades. Yes, it became ridiculous. Utterly absurd.

Football has its own version of death on ice. I shall call it ‘Death on Grass’. Others refer to it simply as diving or cheating. The more eloquent commentator refers to it as simulation. But it’s far more than that. It is truly performance art. It’s a dance. It’s a talent. Some are better at it than others. And it is played to an audience of three. True, there may be tens of thousands in the crowds and tens of millions watching at home on television. But the performance is purely for the benefit of the referee and his two assistants on the line. The referee signals his approval of the dance in question by blowing his whistle and awarding the match to the team who performed Death on Grass the best over the 90 minutes.

The evidence that it is an art form and not cheating? Every time you hear someone say ‘well, it’s part of the game these days‘. Or, ‘...I know, but that Robben, he’s just so good at it‘. Or even, ‘…yes, but if you leave a leg out, you know what he’s going to do‘. Even my own argument against diving is an admission. ‘But it shouldn’t be part of the game’. That I say the word shouldn’t as opposed to isn’t is a confession that I know that actually, when all is said and done, it is. And so it continues. Our beloved, beautiful game continues to be shamed and gamed by artists performing Death on Grass.

Some of it is almost Monty Python-esque. Death by shooting, slashing, from a piano dropped on the player from a great height. Death by being shoved in a tumble dryer or from being struck by a bulldozer. Some look like they are in a rabid death throe. Do you remember Indiana Jones and all those lucky escapes he had from certain doom? Did you ever wonder what those scenes would have looked like if he hadn’t escaped? Watch a game of football and all will be revealed. When and where exactly did all this nonsense start? I do not know. But being British I will point an accusing finger at the continentals. Especially the Italians. But you know the Germans are probably at the centre of it all. Bloody Germans. Where will it end? Hopefully before several team mates go so far as to get together and choreograph  ‘death by nuclear blast’.

Football has spent the last week completely focussed on the Luis Suarez biting incident. It shocked the entire sport. You don’t bite on the football field, Luis! You are an animal! But what were the actual consequences of his bite. Not to make light of the trivial bruising to Chiellini’s shoulder, but the consequences to the result were as they should have been. On the field that day, none. After the event, the offender was punished. You could argue that Suarez should have been sent off, and that this might have altered the final outcome. I accept that. But his action in itself did not influence the scoreline.

Last Sunday, Arjen Robben, a world renowned grand master of Death on Grass, treated the world to a special performance of his art form. Which is, technically, every bit against the rules as biting. The consequences? The Mexican football team were knocked out of the competition. He broke the hearts of more than a hundred million of my compadres and comadres. El Tri’s grand Brazilian adventure was cruelly and unfairly cut short. We were deprived further touchline remonstrations and celebrations by Miguel Herrera. We must suffer further games of Dutch Head Kicking football. Yet, as further evidence of how open to interpretation Death on Grass is, there are arguments on both sides, for and against Robben. But as a fan, I’d rather see Suarez take a nibble out of a players should than see a team cheated out of the whole competition. And then there’s this guy. Who shall henceforth be forever known as What The Hell Oh My God guy. But the Guardian has a more composed view…

For the record, my firm opinion is that Robben dived and cheated. Was there a sliver of contact? I don’t care. Robben clearly played the ref, not the game. Who do I blame? Robben, of course. Plus, his manager. Indeed, I blame all managers. I always find the post match interviews galling, having to listen to a manger ranting and raving about how his side were cheated. Here’s the deal. If the referee is fooled, then the only consequence a player might face for his cheating would be via his manager. I cannot recall a single incidence of a player actually having to face any consequences for diving in a Monday morning meeting with his manager. I have, a couple of times, heard a manager say ‘he’ll have a few words’ with an obvious and persistent diver. Who continues diving the very next week. So one assumes those words were ‘keep it up, son!’

Football mangers will continue to bemoan ‘poor refereeing decisions’. They will continue to send teams out who will attempt to create the perfect conditions to goad a poor decision out of the ref. I will continue to mock their hypocrisy. And nothing will change. Until the governing bodies take firmer action. A television referee for top flight football. Who can view the replay, at different angles, and make an informed and more accurate decision. The game can be brought back and the offender punished.

Some people say this would break up the flow of the game. I argue it will do quite the opposite. If the players can’t get away with it, they won’t do it. The flow of the game will be improved. And games will be decided by goals again, rather than by performance art.

The world of ice skating eventually curbed the ever more evocative interpretations of death. The world of football can do the same, if it imposes its will on to the players taking the field. Let’s not forget that football is a game. It’s sport. It’s not, despite Bill Shankley’s assertion to the contrary, more important than life or death. Twenty years ago yesterday, a sad and non-simulated ‘Death on Grass’ type incident occurred. Colombia’s defender Andres Escobar was gunned down and killed, days after scoring an own goal that knocked his country out of the World Cup in the US.

Colombia was not a safe or happy place at the time. This was only eight years after Colombia had been due to host the World Cup themselves, in 1986, but were forced to give the tournament over to Mexico due to a lack of finance to put the necessary infrastructure in place. It was a shame that such a talented team who had such high expectations had to exit in such a fashion. More of a shame that the defeat lead to the death of one of the team’s stars. I watched a movie/documentary called The Two Escobars a few years ago. It was an excellent film. It’s now on YouTube. Enjoy…

 

 

 

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Brazil 2014

The World Cup Prediction

Ok, so yesterday I teased you with a wallchart showing how England would triumph in the World Cup that kicks off shortly. This post is to return us to reality. Back down to earth we go. England crash out in the group stages. So who do I think is going to win this World Cup? I think Argentina will play a big part in lighting up the tournament. Don’t be surprised to see Messi finish top scorer. Not just because he’s the best player in the world, not just because he’s surrounded by some pretty talented team mates. Mostly because Argentina have the easiest group going, and he may well have the Golden Boot all wrapped up before the Knock Out stage begins.

If I have to pick a shock, I’ll go for Spain. They may well come up against a Croatia team fully of pacey and fearless players in the first round of knock out games. I wouldn’t be surprised if they faced and beat Italy in the quarter finals. But the semi finals are as far as they’ll go. The Belgians are highly tipped, as are Uruaguay. The former have a fantastically talented bunch of players, but a total lack of unity. The latter are defensively fragile. They’ll entertain, perhaps off the pitch as much as on it. But they’ll both be sent packing early doors.

What about Brazil? I just think they’ll do fine. Until they meet Germany. And it’s the Germans who I am tipping to upset the South American party, with victories over the hosts and their neighbours Argentina in a final that is the ‘decider’. They’ve battled for supremacy in World Cup finals twice before, in 1986 and 1990 and are currently one a piece. So…you heard it here first, as they say.

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Sport

The Secret FIFA Farce

Fools Idiots Fuckwits and Arseholes. Pardon the language, but you know what I’m talking about. It was the most suitable acronym I could come up with at short notice. Needless to say I have a few thought about how this mornings vote for the 2018 and 2022 hosts went. I had previously, in the comments on one of my recent posts, queried the ethics of a secret vote.

FIFA has long been known to be a corrupt little club of tin pot dictators. This morning they added further evidence of that. The organisation doesn’t simply need to be cleansed, but closed and replaced with a more open, transparent and representative body. There should be more voters for a start. The Olympic hosts are chosen by a body of some 150 voters, not 24. Or 22, due to the suspension of two FIFA officials for corruption. And each person who has the privilege of casting a vote should be obliged to reveal who they voted for and why.

It has to be said, they may have voted for Russia and Qatar because they believed them to be the best bids. But we’ll never know if there was more to it than that, and have no way of investigating the matter. It could be found in future that a voter had received a dodgy payment, but without knowing which way he voted, there is no final proof. Only suggestive evidence. The fact the England’s bid finished fourth out of four is suggestive evidence in my opinion.

Were Russia and Qatar the best bids? From an environmental point of view, they were both, without any room for argument, the worst options. Not only does Russia need to build almost all their stadiums, but also airports. And the travel between venues is going to leave a high carbon footprint.

As for Qatar. I always thought that was a nasty bit of mucous you get in your nose and thoat when you are sick. But anyway, it turns out they are a country, and they also need to get busy stadium building. Indoor, air conditioned stadium building. The other thing both countries have in common? Corruption. They are arguably the two most corrupt nations of all the bidding entries. Russia has recently been labelled a ‘mafia state‘. It’s all coincidence, I’m sure.

I’ve had to look up info on Qatar, because beyond being aware that it lies somewhere in the Middle East, I know nothing of it. Wealthy they are. But small. A total population of just over one and a half million. The biggest city has less than a million people. The sixth biggest, less than 10,000. And they’ve been given a World Cup? What are they going to do with all the stadiums afterwards? Where’s the legacy? Ridiculous. Farcical.

Qatar, whilst being one of the more liberal Mid East states, still has the death penalty on its books, has a form of Shari’a law, supports Iran’s nuclear program, operates a legalised form of slavery and gay football fans might not be too keen on visiting – they may not leave for five years after the tournament has finished. But they do permit women to drive.

I don’t begrudge Russia winning the vote at all, although Qatar is another matter entirely. Everyone wants to host the World Cup, but only one country every four years can do so. I’m sure they will host a great tournament. What I do begrudge is the process. The corruption. The farce. FIFA.

I can choose to not pay a penny for anything that FIFA takes a cut of. That’s how capitalism is supposed to work. I couldn’t vote this morning. But I can vote tomorrow and every day after that. With my wallet. Except…when you look at this bid video from Russia of their stadia…you do kinda want to go.

The Qatari bid video seems to suggest that they need the World Cup because, quite frankly, their television reception is crap and the only way they’ll get to see a World Cup is by hosting one. I’m surprised their bid opponents didn’t mention that their nicest stadium is in fact a replica of Noah’s Ark from the Bible. That would have had the Qatari religious police pulling the plug on the project pretty quick, I’m sure!

The last point I will make is that my animosity is aimed at a handful of fools, idiots, fuckwits and arseholes. I’ll bet the ordinary people of Russia and Qatar are feeling over the moon right now, and are looking forward to their moment, just as I would have been. And I can’t begrudge them that. I’m sure both countries will put on a show, and Russia in particular is a country whose size and football passion deserves a World Cup.

 

 

 

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Sport

World Cup 2018

Thursday is a big day. One of the biggest days of my life. In the top 20 anyway. On Thursday, in Zurich, FIFA will announce who will host the 2018 World Cup. England are one of the four candidates, and one of three who have a genuine chance of winning – the Holland/Belgium bid is very much an outsider.

If England were to win it would be the first time in more than 50 years since the world’s biggest sporting event has returned to the birthplace of the game. If we lose, I would be in my 50’s before another chance came around. It’s a big day.

England have been big favourites to win the hosting rights for most of the bidding process. FIFA have previously stated that joint bids, such as the Holland/Belgium and Spain/Portugal bids, were not favoured. The other candidate, Russia, has serious issues. Not least because of the logistics of hosting an event over such a huge area. There’s also the issue of stadiums – Russia will need to build 13 of them from scratch. England, on the other hand, could host the tournament tomorrow.

And yet, as the final vote draws near, England’s chances have slipped. Why? Because English reporters identified a number of corrupt FIFA officials, two of whom had voting rights. They correctly identified them – six members were suspended. Were FIFA grateful to have the bad eggs fingered?

Nope. They were forced to go through the process of suspensions of the members involved, but are furious that the English media put them in the spotight in the first place. Statements have filtered out that the revelations have harmed England’s candidacy. A strange reaction – unless they are all corrupt. One is left to assume they are. And England’s bid now hangs in the balance.

FIFA aren’t fit to run a sport. But such is life. One can only hope that the voting members remember that their duty is to cast their ballot for the best bid, and not the bid that put most cash in their pocket. And that they remember that votes shouldn’t be cast to spite a few individuals, but for the joy of an entire population.

Spain and Portugal, I know, would love to host the event. But should such a massive event with massive costs be given to two members of the PIGS, who may (will probably) need bailing out by other EU members in the not so distant future. That would be galling – for the English taxpayer to effectively be paying Spain to host the World Cup.

England’s bid video is below. But there are other videos worth watching. An unofficial England bid video is pretty funny. Finally, the one bit of hope we have – Paul the Octopus, may he rest in peace, selected England as the winners of the hosting competition before he popped his clogs suckers. Come on England!

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Uncategorized

One Thousand Four Hundred Thirty Two

That’s how many days there are till the next World Cup tournament in Brazil. It seems such a long way off. It is. And one can only hope that the next competition, in the land of the people who make the game ‘beautiful’, will see a significant improvement in the quality, flair and skill that was displayed in this tournament. Or rather, what wasn’t displayed in this tournament. For most of it anyway. One would also hope to see a significant improvement in the quality of refereeing, with the addition of technology.

All the big name teams of whom so much was expected, failed to hit top form. The Spanish won the trophy with a series of 5 wins by a scoreline of 1-0. They managed to record the lowest number of goals scored by a winning team ever – that’s perhaps worse that it sounds as well, because until recently the competition didn’t feature 32 teams. More games, less goals. Pff.

Brazil looked fabulous now and then, but only now and then. Argentina played some decent football, but then sank without trace. Holland came close to winning every single game, both in qualifying and the tournament itself…but once the World Cup proper began, they never did look entirely convincing. Workmanlike would be a better description. And as for England….

Fifa Fan Fest

Despite the lack of consistent quality, I enjoyed the World Cup hugely. Perspective I guess. I had two teams to cheer on. I also followed the Latin American teams, many of whom have players in the Mexican League.The Fifa Fan Fest in the Zocalo was great fun, and I’ve nearly, so nearly, finished my Panini sticker album.

There were plenty of bright spots over the last month as well. The stadiums looked fantastic, the atmosphere at games was great (and I like the vuvzelas!), there was plenty of drama and excitement, and there were a few pretty good goals – Suarez’ curler for Uruguay stood out for me. Uruguay themselves stood out, for everyone I suspect. And I don’t blame Suarez for his classy piece of work at the other end of the pitch by the way! Serves Ghana right for cheating to get the free kick in the first place.

The predictions. A few people added their predictions to my post. Two went for a Netherlands win. Close, but not close enough. To a degree I bombed. I picked England. But then again I always pick England. The other finalist I went for was Spain. And I had the Netherlands down as the beaten semi finalists by England. So if you remove my optisimism from the chart, I got things perfectly right!

Sure, Mexico didn’t make the semi finals as I had forecast, but I did tip the smaller Latin American teams to do well. Paraguay got to the quarters, Chile and Mexico both made it out of the groups. And Uruguay of course made it to the semi final. Uruguay, sadly, were the one small LatAm team I didn’t expect to do well. I had Mexico coming out of that group, and thought it would be tough for the Uruguayans to grab second place in front of both the French and the hosts. But what do I know. I did say that a little team would make it to the semis though…

At least I managed to win the Fantasy League with my canny predictions. Technically, I got fewer predictions correct than those finishing in second and third, and fewer correct scores that the chap in third. But the points system weighs in favour of the KO rounds, and I put on a pretty good streak. In fact the only two I got wrong involved German wins. Damned Germans….

But anyway. It’s all over. For another four years. The normal domestic seasons begin in a few weeks, so my football withdrawal symptoms won’t last long. I still have my football blog if you want to follow that too, or just add my Twitter account – it’s the same thing really. Well done to South Africa for putting on such a great show, well done to Spain for their win, and well done to Uruguay, Ghana and Germany in particular for playing such great football and exceeding all expectations. England…you sucked! Here’s ten goals to finish it all with that didn’t suck…

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Uncategorized

How I Lost 7-2

The joy of living in another country is that you get to follow two teams in the World Cup. Double the opportunity for some glory. It also doubles you opportunity for misery. I got a double dose of the latter. The first infusion of misery hurt most. England being knocked out by Germany.

Yes, Germany were the better team. Yes, England’s defence looked as solid as a paper house in a hurricane. Yes, John Terry probably does a better job of staying erect with team mates girlfriends than on a football pitch. But if you think you’re about to read a humble post from a gracious loser, you’ve so come to the wrong blog!

In the northern hemisphere at the moment, in a small town in south London, Wimbledon I think it’s called, there is a tennis tournament going on. And they have this fancy little device called Hawkeye. It will tell your ears quicker than your eyes can tell your brain that a small, fluffy green ball less than 3″ in diameter, travelling at up to three times the speed of a football, has gone 1mm wide of a chalk line.

In the southern hemisphere, at the World Cup, you have three officials running round a pitch like they’re playing a game of musical chairs at an RNIB Christmas party. And getting things hopelessly wrong. Repeatedly. And yet I don’t blame the referee. Who, when shown the video replay at half time, is reported to have exclaimed ‘Oh my god!‘ Read the rest of the article for a more objective account of the point I’m trying to make.

Why is there no goal line technology in football? If you don’t know, here’s the reason. Because Fifa, and Sepp Blatter in particular, don’t want it. Because, apparently, football should be the same game whether played in a World Cup final or on a Sunday afternoon in an amateur league in Blackburn Lancashire. What a load of nonsense!

How many amateur teams play on pitches with under soil heating, that are maintained by a professional crew? How many amateur teams pay their players millions of pounds a year? How many amateur teams have tens of millions of fans watching them on television? How many amateur teams call off games because there’s a bit of ice on the road outside the ground?

How many amateur teams screw around with each others girlfriends? Ok, the last point might be both irrelevant and just as true as the pros. But still. You get my point. The amateur game and the professional games already have massive differences between them. Adding some technology to the professional game isn’t going to kill the amateur sport.

Sometimes games are won or lost according to who takes their chances and who doesn’t. Today it was about who’s goals were allowed and who’s goals weren’t. I know, I know. Germany went on to score two more after that incident. But that goal would have brought England level at 2-2. And that changes the game. The whole style of the game. If England hadn’t had to chase the game. If, if, if.

Maybe Germany would have gone on to win 6-2. Maybe England would have sneaked a third and triumphed. Maybe undeservedly so. I don’t care. Who knows? We’ll never know. It’s not fair on the fans who paid thousands upon thousands of ever devaluing British pounds to travel half way round the world to see their team. They paid enough to deserve to know what would have happened.

But such is life. It wasn’t to be. It turned out that Adolf needn’t have been so concerned after all. My Mexican amigos have common ground to commiserate with me too, after the first goal that Argentina scored was so blatantly off side. It had been a tight game before that. the goal really knocked the wind out of their sails. They lost their composure, discipline and soon after a second goal – game over.

So that’s probably pretty much the last of my World Cup posts. Maybe I’ll find some enthusiasm to write something more come the latter stages of the competition. Otherwise, I’ll sign off now. What’s left to say. Oh, I know…..who won the bloody war anyway?! 🙂

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Tsk. The Beeb are getting clever. The video won’t work if you’re outside the UK. Click here to see a slightly crappy video of the disallowed goal, to see just how bloody far it was over the line!

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Redemption

I’m not generally a superstitious person. Religion is all hocus pocus to me. Black cats crossing my path have no effect on the rest of my day. Walking under ladders is a favourite past time, a poke in the eye to bad luck. But when it comes to football, I do get peculiarly drawn into to patterns, superstitions, habits and other silly nonsense. The fact that England wore all red today made me feel that bit more positive.

I went to watch the game in the Zocalo, on the Fifa Fan Fest screen. Of the six important matches so far of the competition, the three England games and the three Mexico games, only two of them were won. Well, won by the team I wanted to win. And I watched both of those games at the Zocalo. Coincidence? I think not!  Therefore, I must watch all future England games at the Zocalo, and England are guaranteed, yes guaranteed, to win the World Cup….

England’s performance today was such a turn around compared to their efforts against the US and Algeria. For the first sixty minutes in particular, they simply blew Slovenia away. With class, if not with an avalanche of goals. We could have had a half dozen though. In fact I’ll go so far as to say that that was the most impressive sixty minutes of football I’ve watched at the World Cup so far.

That late, late goal by the US was unfortunate though. Although you could say we should have scored a second goal and secured first place in the group without relying on other teams to help out. To win the World Cup, we’ll now have to do it the hard way. After the next round against Germany, Argentina will possibly be waiting. Then Spain. Then Brazil in the final. If all goes as it is expected to go….

But anyway. Bring on the Germans! The Hun. The Krauts. Let’s have at old Jerry! Sink the Bismark – oh and has anyone mentioned Hitler only had one ball? And who won the war anyway?! Yes, it’s time for the English tabloids to go into a nationalistic, rhetoric filled, literary overdrive. It might be politically incorrect to be abusive towards blacks, asians, jews and the rest. But the Germans are still fair game. Red heads too. And of course, the French. That goes without saying. I wonder if they could hear the gut wrenching belly laughing on their side of the channel when South Africa scored yesterday…?

I won’t go so far as the tabloids though. I actually like Germans. They make excellent travel companions. But there’s 23 Germans I’d rather were back in Alemania come Monday morning. Instead of abuse, I feel it’s time for some cheesy England music…..although this was the best England World Cup song of all time, even if it was unofficial.

If you’re in the mood for some old skool, then there was 1990’s World In Motion by New Order- if you’re looking for history to repeat, you’ll surely have noted that in 1990 we drew our first game 1-1, the second game 0-0 before going through by winning the third game 1-0. And then onto the semi final. Let’s have some of that rather than what happened in Mexico in 1970. No one wants to come back home just yet….Hopefully, this time we’ll get it right.

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The Mexican Autopsy

Was it just me, or did it seem, right from the announcement of the team, that Aguirre had this match as a ‘not important’  sort of a game. A friendly. A kick around. Blanco starting? Please! I’ve defended him plenty, but as a player whose role is as an impact substitute. Not a starter. Franco up front? Again? The rest of the world can see he can’t score.

Why not Aguirre. This was an important game. Winning would mean topping the group. That would mean facing Korea or Nigeria in the first knockout round. Very winnable. Then the winner of England’s group in the quarters. At the moment, it’s far from certain that will be England. Slovenia? Very winnable.

And then Mexico could well be in the semi final. And just 90 minutes from a possible appearance in the World Cup final! But that isn’t the route they’ll now have to take. Getting beat by Uruguay means a price must be paid. Next up will be Argentina in all likelihood, unless Greece can pull off the shock of the tournament so far. If they did manage to get past the Argies, then their next opponent could be Germany. No ifs or buts…it’s a much harder route.

But still. They have qualified. And it isn’t all over yet. I favour Argentina over Mexico, but it’ll be a close and competitive game. I live in hope. There’s no reason to give up whatsoever. As strong as Argentina have looked, they have had some pretty easy opposition, and even so, they’ve looked a bit iffy at the back.

Last word on today’s game…..no, I just can’t be bothered. It was all just too dreary to report on. Not as bad as England’s performances so far, mind you. But poor nonetheless. Instead I’ll leave a little video for all those who feel there’s been too much diving and play acting in this World Cup. It has been bad, yes. But it could be worse. Take a look at this one…..and he got away with it somehow!

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El Decimoséptimo De Junio

I suspect the exact date will soon be forgotten, unlike the Cinco de Mayo. But the day will never be forgotten. Arguably Mexico’s finest World Cup performance ever. Definitely their best result ever. I was there, in the Zocalo, along with tens of thousands of fans. And I made the march down to the Angel of Independence to celebrate a little bit more.

Other than Franco and Vela, both of whom seem to be bearing a long term grudge against someone in Row Z and trying to hit them with the ball repeatedly, the whole team were outstanding. Salcido rarely gets the headlines, but the guy is a rock, every time. Gio Dos Santos had another fantastic game. Juarez was everywhere. Marquez was Marquez and bossed midfield.

Am I forgetting anyone? They all had great games. And Blanco…..is it a coincidence that all three of Mexico’s goals have been scored while he is on the pitch. Today he simply helped steady the ship, and stepped up to hit a perfect penalty to seal the points. That’s three World Cup tournaments he’s scored in.

There’s still work to be done though. A draw against Uruguay would see both Latin American teams through. But it would also see Mexico face Argentina. Just a couple of weeks ago that wouldn’t have worried me too much. But the Argies have really stepped it up since. I think Mexico would rather finish top, and face England in the quarters. They would fancy their chances on current form.

Whatever, they mustn’t get beaten by Uruguay. They aren’t in the knock out stage yet. A bad result for El Tri, and a French win by three goals over South Africa, and the party will come to a sudden end. I have plenty of photos on Flickr, of course. Click here to see them. And a video for a post tomorrow.

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Mexico v France Preview

Boy Group A is going to be a tight finish. I’ve just watched Uruguay’s 3-0 beating of South Africa, thanks to another cancelled class – I’ve had a lot of them since the World Cup started. The South Americans put in a much better performance than they did against France, and although they hardly set the world on fire with anything overly spectacular, they put in a professional enough day’s work. There was a little Latin flair. And a lot of….well, stuff that you’d normally associate with ‘death on ice‘. Was it a penalty? Yup…the keeper shouldn’t have left his leg out like that. Did the Uruguayan make the most of it? Like he’d been shot…

I’m trying to work out who is under the most pressure tomorrow, France or Mexico. If Mexico win, then we can start up some decent Latin American conspiracy theories. I’d bet my life’s savings (not very much) on that game being followed up with Mexico drawing against Uruguay 0-0, with both teams going through to the knock out rounds, and France and South Africa going home regardless of their result.

On the other hand, if France and Mexico draw tomorrow, the pressure is definitely on the latter. Mexico will have to beat Uruguay in their final game, and by at least three goals, to be certain of going through. Unless both Mexico/Uruguay and France/South Africa games are drawn, in which case, France and Mexico will finish level on points and level on goal difference. It’ll come down to who has scored the most goals, in which case Mexico will kick off with a one goal advantage.

But if France were to draw South Africa 1-1 and Mexico draw Uruguay 0-0, then that means it finishes as tight as can be. Dead equal. What happens next to split them? A toss of a coin. Imagine, leaving the World Cup, beaten by the toss of a coin? The final group standings in a World Cup has only once ever gone to a coin toss, back in 1990. But no team was eliminated then, as third place also went through to the next round.

There’s another possibility. Were France to beat Mexico, then lose to South Africa, with Mexico beating Uruguay, then all four teams would finish on four points. And it gets messy. Am I confusing you with all these possibilities yet? Yes, well…..at least I’ve gotten across the key point. This group is as tight as a….. Whatever. Uruguay are definitely in the driving seat, although their place is far from guaranteed. South Africa are as good as out, unless they can thrash France – unlikely. France and Mexico have it all to play for. Bring it on!

So what are Mexico’s chances tomorrow? Depends how you want to look at it. Historically, not good. This will be their fourth meeting with France in a World Cup. They’ve lost twice (4-1 and 3-2) and drawn once (1-1) and have yet to beat their illustrious European foe in a competitive game. On current form though, Mexico could be regarded as favourites. This French team barely qualified for the World Cup at all, needing a highly controversial ‘main de Dieu‘ moment from Thierry Henry in the dying moments of their qualification play off. It still wasn’t the worst handball in football history. But to say the Irish took it badly is an understatement. We Brits chipped in our bit too, of course. Damned French…

Their preparations have hardly been ideal either, with a 1-0 defeat to China just a week or so back. And then there was that dreadful perfomance against Uruguay in their first game of the World Cup. Their manager doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing, the French public think he’s an utter idiot, and one of their star players, the magician Gourcuff,  has had a massive falling out with the whole camp. I’m just hoping that this all adds up to the Decimoséptimo de Junio being as remembered in Mexico as the Cinco de Mayo. When Mexico last handed the French their butts.

It’s up to Mexico to do what they haven’t been able to do so much of for…..well, most of their footballing history. Score goals. More goals, in particular, than they let in. I hope Guardado starts on the left of midfield this time out. And Chicharito up front with Medina, instead of Franco and Vela. I suspect Chicharito will play, and that sadly Medina will be warming the bench again.

And let’s not forget Blanco, the super sub. He has good memories of France, in 1998. The country, rather than the team, it has to be said. But still. His little party trick went down so well, EA Sports immortalised it. My prediction? Mexico to win 2 goals to 1. And on Friday it will be on to England, playing against Algeria. Surely, surely, surely, there’s three easy points there. Although I hear that, perhaps due to the Vuvuzelas drowning out the sounds of English wails and gnashing of teeth, Capello is bravely going to stick with Rob Green in goal. Who has also been immortalised. Just in not as complimentary a way as Blanco…

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South Africa v Mexico

Where to start the match analysis? I know….with Telmex! Did I go to the Zocalo to watch the game on the big screen? Nope…Telmex promised to bring me my new modem today to reconnect me with my virtual world. Did they come? Well, if I tell you I’m typing this in an internet cafe, does that pretty much tell the story? Pinche Telmex pendejos. Forgive the language. Somehow, profanity in another language never seems so bad….

But. The game. Sigh. The same again. Lots of play. Some decent chances. Some wasteful finishing. I do have a number of observations to make though. Starting with Oscar Perez, the keeper. What happened to him? Something good in the water in his local well. I remember watching him a couple of years ago for Cruz Azul. Gave me palpitations every time he went near the ball.

A blunder a minute, and then they shipped him out to go play somewhere else. Very much the Mexican version of England’s David ´Calamity´James in his Liverpool days. I was surprised to see him in the final 23. Even more surprised to see him named as Mexico’s number one keeper. But to be fair, he looks a different player compared to the Conejo I saw at Estadio Azul.

Next, Rafael Marquez. Quality through and through. World class. Which is why Barcelona took him in all those years ago. He’s a good central/defensive midfielder. And, unlike the front two today, he can shoot straight. I have no problem with Marquez playing in midfield per se. But I do see problems with Mexico’s defence when Marquez isn’t there.

South Africa really aren’t terribly good. And they didn’t have an awful lot of possession. But when they did counter, they split the Mexican defence like the proverbial knife through butter. I think Mexico would do better to have Marquez move back into the back four.

On to the strikers, Vela and Franco. No, no, no, no, no! Señor Aguirre, to win games, you need to score goals. Which Vela and Franco just do’t look like doing. In fact I’m pretty sure there was someone in Row Z that Franco had taken a dislike to, because that’s where he kept belting the ball. I know. Franco did score against England. Just. From about three yards, and even then he didn’t really hit it sweet. And Vela scored against Italy. Just. He hit it at the keeper, as usual. But that time, the keeper kindly moved out of the way.

Vela and Franco are both proven non scorers in the English game. Chicharito is far from a proven scorer at international level, but at least he isn’t proven to not be so. And Medina….after such fine strikes against Italy and Chile, he has got to be worth his place.

Giovanni Dos Santos could be a serious star at this world cup if he gets a little more of a rub of the green. He’s quick, fleet footed and has a shot. He could be the new Blanco. What about the old Blanco? Well he is old. And slow. But…

I thought after such a composed first half, Mexico started the second half with little spirit, little idea of how to break through, and they lost their concentration. They gave the ball away repeatedly, and I wasn’t surprised that South Africa got a goal. Even if I was surprised at the ferocity of the shot that got it for them. Even after the goal, Mexico failed to turn up the heat.

Then Blanco came on. Some say he’s too old. Too slow. Nonsense, in my humble opinion. Without even doing an awful lot, he changed the game. The fans and players spirits were lifted. They had a new target. South Africa faced a player who could do something different. The game changed back in Mexico’s favour the moment he stepped off the bench.

Not that he is simply a mascot of some sort, who doesn’t contribute. He delivered as many quality balls into the box in 20 minutes as the rest of the team had in the preceding 70. Blanco is capable of playing only about 20 minutes these days, but he creates goals, and still scores goals. I don’t think any Mexican needs telling, that that is a key problem with the rest of the team! And that’s why he still brings value to El Tri.

Next up, France. And I will go to the Zocalo for that game. The French drew rather tamely with Uruguay today. The group is tight, and it’s anyone’s game. Any of the four could still qualify, but I’m sticking with my initial prediction of Mexico and South Africa. But before any further action happens in Group A, the more important business of Group C happens tomorrow! Come on England, Come on England, Come On England….!

by Shine 2010

Photo courtesy of Shine 2010.

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