Day: June 12, 2006

Ghana To The Dogs

Ghana 0-2 Italy Italy. You never know quite what to expect, do you? They’re capable of getting knocked out by the best or the worst teams in the tournament, but they’re also capable of beating them. This evening’s match rounded off a trio of outstanding matches today. Having basked in the warm glow of Australia’s sheer delight at proving themselves on the world stage for the first time, and taken an enormous amount of pleasure from a Czech performance that thoroughly justifies their pre-tournament hype, I was wondering what tonight’s match between the unpredictable Italians and the near-unknown Ghanaians might bring. The answer: an open, entertaining match with two teams committed to attack, one outstanding goal, one terrible defensive error and with a huge question mark left at the end of it. So, to address these points in order. Both teams came out fully expecting to attack, attack, attack. It looked more likely to pay benefits for Italy – particularly from corners, as the Ghanaian goalkeeper Kingston appeared not to have practiced catching crosses, or indeed at voyaging much more than two or three inches from his line. Whilst the Italians controlled much of the play, Ghana broke exceptionally quickly, and looked dangerous going forward. What they had in common with the other “developing” football nations was two drawbacks – the elusive “final ball”, and, when forward in greater...

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Bouncing Czechs

Czech Republic 3-0 USA There’s been a lot of talk recently about the possibility (or indeed likelihood) of the USA launching a serious challenge for the World Cup. It’ll keep coming every time until they actually do, and it seems to be based more on the fact that America is the richest country in the world, rather than on any substantial evidence. The fact remains that there are no American players at the richest clubs in the world (this the point at which, on messageboards, Americans butt in and helpfully add that Fulham is one of the richest clubs in the world because Mohammad Al-Fayed owns Harrods), and that they lack experience at the top level. Their own league, the MLS, is by a country mile the most stable football league America has ever had, but (even though it has a draft system, and was set up with the single aim of providing a solid basis for a strong international team) it would barely make the top twenty best leagues in the world. That said, the Czechs are a strong team. When Koller ambles into the penalty area, Frankenstein’s-monster-like, to put them ahead after seven minutes, you kind of got the feeling that it was going to be a walk-over. Although the Americans were unfortunate when when Claudio Reyna (the only player in these finals that I’ve ever spoken...

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Advance Australia Fair

Australia 3-1 Japan What a terrific game. Best of the tournament so far, in my humble opinion. Australia, as I said before, are a capable team, and are a decent bet for a run to the quarter-finals. One would hope, knowing the self-aggrandisement of Australians when it comes to sport, that they don’t go any further. If they do, that enormously irritating sunny self-confidence that they have might just carry them all the way. They certainly look more confident and more attacking. Japan aren’t the team that they were four years ago, and that team only made the second round of the World Cup then off the back of the teams that played against them not really turning up. Looking elsewhere, I’m surprised to to see Japan widely backed (including pre-match on ITV) to finish second to Brazil in the group. Perhaps surprisingly, given the number of racial slurs available in this match, Clive Tyldesley has his best match of the tournament so far. A quick hello to “everyone watching in Earl’s Court” and a warning for Londoners that live with Australians to “move out for the night, because you won’t get any sleep”, and that’s about it. Australia look like the stronger team initially, with Viduka forcing a fine double save from Kawaguchi. There was no doubt that Japan’s goal was a foul. Two defenders bounced of Mark...

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The Gift Of The Gab

You see, with Martin O’Neill, the BBC have got a real chance. They’ve got a chance to put an intelligent, articulate broadcaster on their channel. An authorative, experienced coach who steers clear of hyperbole and jingoism, and instead offers a clear and easily comprehensible analysis of what he has just seen. Instead, though, the BBC seem intent on sticking with the likes of Ian “I Don’t Care About Anyone Apart From England” Wright (an actual quote from the Holland-Serbia match) instead. I know that the BBC have to cater to everyone, and I sometimes think that I’m in a minority when I say that I don’t mind the BBC’s regular squad. Yes, I know that Mark Lawrenson is unfit to hold an opinion on anything. I know that John Motson, for all his encyclopedic knowledge, is well past his prime. I know that there is no real reason, aesthetic or otherwise, why Peter Reid should be allowed within a thirty yard radius of a television camera. But Alan Hansen is still the best pundit on the television, and Gary Lineker is a safe pair of hands, as long as he can be prevented from flag-waving for England. But. BUT. BUT! There is simply no excuse, and there can be no justification for the way that he was treated during and after the match between Serbia & Holland yesterday afternoon....

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