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Day: June 13, 2006

Brazilian Bland

Brazil 1-0 Croatia God. Before the match, the BBC took a good half an hour that could have been used up with public information films eulogising Brazil. This was, if you believed Gary Lineker, the greatest team ever to play football. It wasn’t a question of whether they would win the World Cup, it was a matter of how easy it would be for them. Alan Hansen, Leonardo & Ian Wright dutifully lined up to pay tribute to them, and then we were off to the stadium. Any hopes that it would improve lasted about 15 seconds. You could almost hear the bubble of drool forming in the corner of Mark Lawrenson’s mouth. Try not to dwell on that mental image for too long. Meanwhile, John Motson was running out of superlatives. It was a sickly-sweet Brazil fest. They could do nothing wrong. And then… …Nothing. No inspiration whatsoever. Ronaldinho looked utterly isolated on the left. Ronaldo… christ. More on him later. They had no shape, were playing the match practically at walking pace, and treating it more like another exhibition match (although this is perhaps unsurprising, given that the only matches they’ve played in the last three or four months or so have been against amateur club sides and New Zealand). Fortunately for them, Croatia seemed largely unconcerned by this. Their tactic seemed to be pass the ball...

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France 0-0 Switzerland Okay. Forget what I said about “Old Europe” down there. Just forget it. At least, forget it about it so far as France are concerned. They were wretched this evening, as bad as they were four years ago, and this time they didn’t even have the excuse of having travelled half-way across the world. They just couldn’t be bothered. Zidane doesn’t look capable of playing more than an hour at this level any more, Henry doesn’t appear to have been told what the tactical plan is (if, indeed, there is one), Wiltord was playing as if it was a Sunday morning kick-about, and as for Ribery… well, they’d have been better off starting with Platini. In fact, De Gaulle’s corpse would have shown a better first touch. The Swiss looked as if they were taken by surprise by it all. The match crawled along at a snail’s pace, with Switzerland full of graft but lacking in quality, and France lacking in… well… anything, really. Switzerland had the best chance of the first half – a free-kick lifted into the penalty area while the French defence was apparently looking at a particularly pretty butterfly that had flown across the pitch drifted through to hit the post, Frei opted to volley when it would have been easier to head, and the ball, predictably enough, ended up sailing harmlessly...

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Korea Changes

South Korea 2-1 Togo You kind of had the feeling that this wasn’t going to be Togo’s day from the moment that the stadium PA system belted out the South Korean national anthem twice before the match started. To be fair, some of the Togolese players gamely attempted to mouth the words to it, but most of them stood there looking vaguely confused. FIFA were doing their bit towards killing all of the players before the end of the first round. Not only are they said to be “clamping down” on water breaks during play (after, we wouldn’t want the players re-hydrating themselves now, would we?), but they also insisted, for the purposes of a better picture on the television, of all things, on keeping the roof on, meaning that the stadium had the atmosphere and humidity of a sauna. Togo, whose coach resigned last Friday, only to be reinstated on Monday, were due to be the tournament whipping boys. Fielding a team from the nether regions of European football and the second tier of African league football, they took the game to the Koreans from the start, and created the better of the opportunities even before they scored just before half-time. Korea, by contrast, were lousy. A poor imitation, even of the team that fluked (and that’s being generous) it’s way to the semi-finals four years ago. The...

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The Old World Order

Over the last ten or fifteen years or so, much has been made of a supposed “New World Order” in football. The catalyst for this was Cameroon’s achievement in making the quarter-finals of Italia ’90 (and then pushing England all the way once there), but it has built up since then, and reached a crescendo four years ago, when football’s “old guard” crashed and burned. South Korea and Turkey made the semi-finals, whilst the USA and Senegal made the quarter-finals. Meanwhile, France, Argentina & Portugal were out in the first round, and Italy and Sweden fell before the Koreans (and some might add, before the referees). To many commentators, Old Europe had been found out. Too many of it’s “stars” left their hearts at home, and the baton was enthusiastically taken up by a generation of Asians and Africas, for whom the World Cup still meant something. Now we’ve moved onto Germany ’06 and, at the risk of ending up sounding a complete chump in about four weeks time, I think it’s fairly safe to say that the old guard is re-asserting it’s authority. True, the emerging nations have managed a couple of decent results – although Australia’s win over Japan wasn’t the comprehensive win that the final score might suggest (three goals in the last eight minutes, and a definite penalty turned down with the scores at 1-1)...

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