Author: Ian

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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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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