The 200% World Cup: World Cup Breakfast, Day 5 – Portugal’s Dismal Day
It’s all a matter of the position in which you put yourself. There was much discussion last night of the incident that led to the sending off of Pepe during yesterday’s match between Germany and Portugal, and as with all arguments that take place online, there was never going to be one decisive winner. On the one hand, Robert Muller’s reaction to Pepe’s momentary lapse of reason hardly shows the game in the greatest of lights, but on the other, Pepe has a reputation for allowing his temper to get the better of him, and in any case the reality of the matter is that the ultimate responsibility for Pepe staying on the pitch for the full duration of this match rested with, well, Pepe, ultimately. It would be nice if television broadcasters could spare us the sort of moralising that we had to endure from Adrian Chiles at half-time yesterday afternoon, though.
The kerfuffle surrounding Pepe’s dismissal almost overshadowed the torrid hammering that Portugal received at the hands of Germany during the first half of this match. Joao Pereira might have been sent off for the foul on Mario Goetze which led to the penalty from which Muller gave Germany the lead in the first place, but things only went from bad to worse for Portugal as the first half wore on, and by half-time the Germans led by three and the match was already effectively over as a contest. Germany took their foot off the pedal in the second half but still found the time to add a fourth goal to their tally – completing a hat-trick for Muller into the bargain – but at the end of the match it almost felt as Portugal could have a tough job just to get through a group that should on paper have been comfortable for them. A performance of this paucity left the idea firmly implanted in the head that either Ghana or the United States of America could have enough about them to knock Portugal out in the first round of this competition.
In many respects, perhaps the less that is said about the match between Iran and Nigeria, the better. There is, however, a point to be made about the nature of sport as entertainment and about our expectations as supporters. This was a terrible game, played two extremely limited teams, but after the match the Iran coach Carlos Queiroz seemed fairly happy to have earnt a point for his team. There are sixty-four matches to be played in this tournament, and not all of them are going to carry the levels of excitement and interest that we have been spoilt with so far. But this, in some respects, is what it’s all about. Under no other circumstances whatsoever would millions of people get the chance to – and accept the chance to – watch Iran play Nigeria, live on prime-time, free-to-air television. And if the match stinks the place out… well, that’s just football for you. Consider it an exercise in chracter building.
Much of yesterday’s drama that didn’t involve grown men wearing man-made fibres and almost headbutting each other came in the final match of the day, between the USA and Ghana. There is something about the USA football team that seems to have something approaching an inherited sense of drama about it. It took barely thirty seconds for Clint Dempsey to demonstrate why he’s the highest paid player in Major League Soccer by skipping through a Ghanaian defence whose collective internal monologue was probably still humming its national anthem and slide the ball into the goal to give America the lead.
Much of the remainder of the match was an exercise in endurance in the cloying humidity of Natal, and it looked as if Ghana had earned themselves a point – and Portugal something of a get out of jail free card – when the perky Asamoah Gyan crossed from the left for Ayew to equalise with thirteen minutes left to play, but any script that involved a frazzled American defence clinging on for a draw was thrown out of the window when a corner from the right was headed in by the hitherto anonymous Michael Brooks to win the match for the USA. This was a a slow burner of a match, but its crescendo made it seem worthwhile for those of us who stayed up until one in the morning to watch it. Much is said in denigration of those who harp on relentlessly about “passion” and “courage,” as if these are a panacea for the lack of technical ability within a team. Last night in Natal, the USA demonstrated that these values do have a place in modern football after all, and Jurgen Klinsmann’s team now has an outstanding chance of making the next stage of the tournament.
Classic World Cup Match Of The Day
Russia make their 2014 World Cup this evening, so this morning we’re going all the way back to 1966 to take a look at how the Soviet Union’s best ever performance in this tournament came to an end. The USSR didn’t enter the World Cup until the 1958 tournament, but although the team could only manage underwhelming performances in 1958 and 1962, winning the European Championships in 1960 and finishing as runners-up in that competition four years later left the distinct impression that this was a team capable of going the distance in the World Cup finals. And so it proved. After wins against Italy, South Korea and Chile in the group stages, they then defeated a Hungary team that had comfortably beaten Brazil in the group stages of the competition in the quarter-finals to set up a semi-final match against West Germany at Everton’s Goodison Park.
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