Monthly Archive: June 2010
If this World Cup has yet to really catch, there were high hopes beforehand that these two teams would provide the first really absorbing contest – both are packed with undoubted talent, and are probably battling for a single qualification sport behind Brazil. But with hindsight, this last factor was the critical one and ought to have made us realise that we’d be in for yet another game defined principally by caution. This game always looked likely to be the crunch one for both teams, and if it had come last it might have been a humdinger. Coming first, neither team was willing to take much in the way of risks, apparently happy to leave it to see who could nick a result off Brazil or else rack up the better goal difference against North Korea.
Half way through the opening set of fixtures then, and we’ve already seen two of the semi-finalists in action. Only Germany have really looked good enough to be worthy of it so far, but the lower half of the draw contains more big guns, with favourites Spain and Brazil, not to mention holders Italy, all to come shortly.
And then there’s Holland. They looked very good through an admittedly weak qualifying group, and even come to the World Cup as Unofficial World Champions, but no one seemed quite sure beforehand whether to put them as a good outside bet or right up there with the favourites. And I’m not sure this performance really helped us much. They won, and comfortably enough in the end although that was by no means a foregone conclusion at half-time, but they didn’t really set the heather alight or show the same sort of class as Germany had against Australia yesterday evening.
Why are all the matches in the tournament that I have to cover for Twhohundredpercent on ITV? It’s not that the BBC coverage appears to be any better – indeed, it appears that yesterday’s Match of the Day highlights package neglected to show any footage from South Korea’s win over Greece, which is fairly appalling – but I am a snob. Actually, it’s frankly preposterous the amount of pre-game build-up and half-time punditry that I’m watching in this tournament, considering the cataclysmic effect it has on my sanity, ITV or otherwise.
I volunteered for this game. On paper it seemed a good idea to do. I’d seen Slovenia play Spain at Euro 2000, and Slovenia are some of the loudests fans I’ve ever come across. They only really have one song: “Kdor ne skače,ni Slovenc, hej, hej, hej”. And when they sing, they jump up and down in unison, and if you’re in the upper tier of a stadium with 10,000 Slovenians ten feet away for them, you get that a great atmosphere, with the slight sense of unease that the stadium is going to collapse.
Okay, let’s get it out the way first up: Robert Green. He had only one save to make in that first half, when Clint Dempsey hit – or in truth barely half-hit – a low shot from maybe 28 yards out after forty minutes in. It was a routine save, Green seemed to get his body behind it, got both hands to it, and yet somehow it squirmed over the line for the USA’s equaliser.
Diego Armando Maradona’s last World Cup game as a player, was in 1994. Against Nigeria. So, it was fitting that his first World Cup game as a manager was against the same opponents. Maradona’s playing career was controversial, but at his peak he was capable of raising above average teams to great heights, both at club level with Napoli (both their Serie A titles came with Diego at the heart) and of course at national level (Burruchaga apart, most of Argentina’s 1986 side was ordinary, or past their best).
Statistics are often as misleading as they are informative. On one hand this game is between the 2004 European Championship winners and the 2002 World Cup Semi-Finalists. Another way of describing the game is between a side whose World Cup finals record outside their own country is just one win in seventeen games (and that over African minnows Togo) and the only European nation ever to play at a World Cup without scoring. At the outset, that may be harsh, as the South Koreans are showing that the co-hosting of the Cup in 2002 has been beneficial in the long-term as the 1994 World Cup was for the United States.
Game two then, and after all the discussion of squad selections and line-ups, we’ve already had a look at ITV’s opening performance and it’s time to see what the BBC’s much-vaunted team can do. Given all the hype that accompanies even a Europa Cup Group phase game these days, or a game to decide who finishes fourth in the league, Lineker’s opening gambit here was an endearingly BBC-ish understatement: “The World Cup. Football tournaments don’t come much bigger.” You don’t say.
The gloves are now off. For the first game of any World Cup, you always need to pick your strongest side. Anything else would be foolhardy, so we can be fairly sure we are seeing people’s strongest hand. How, then, did ITV do? This year it was their turn to take the opening game for the first time in eight years, and they looked keen to show they meant business.
Though it has slipped under many people’s radar, there is some sort of World Cup due to be held. Soccer City, Johannesburg is the venue for the start of this summer (winter)’s festivities. South Africa and Mexico wait in the wings to entertain us with some actual – wait for it – football. But first, of course, comes the dubious pleasure of the opening ceremony.
Nearly there folks, the World Cup starts today. Yes, that’s today, and next time you hear from me I’ll have some actual real actual football to talk about.
Just one more thing before we’re underway. As hopefully you’ll know by now, twohundredperdent is going to be a very busy place over the coming few weeks – our team of, uh, hand-picked experts will be providing the best coverage possible from the comfort of our own living rooms, and we thought it was only fair that we nail our colours to the mast first so that you know where we all stand. And so that you can gauge for yourselves just how little we know about football right from the outset. Ian has already given his more detailed predictions a couple of days back, but now it’s time for all of us to answer a few simple questions ….