Argentina 0-0 Holland / Ivory Coast 3-2 Serbia
May I just be the first person to say… WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT? As some of you may remember, in Euro 2000, Holland and France had qualified before their final match, against each other. They were amongst the favourites to win the competition, and, released from the worry of whether they’d make it through or not, they played out one of the matches of the tournament (Holland edged it 3-2), and everybody was happy. Skip forward six years, and what do we find? Argentina (suberb, albeit against a Serbia team that would struggle to get into the Premiership at present) and Holland (workmanlike against Serbia, somewhat fortunate against Ivory Coast) play out a turgid 0-0 draw – one of the worst matches of the tournament.
It was if neither of them want to miss out on the bonanza of possibly playing England in the quarter-finals. Holland created more or less nothing in the first half, and only a couple of shots that even half tested Abbondanzieri, whilst Argentina weren’t much better – a couple of shots from Riquelme that flashed just wide, and a low shot that was deflected onto the post. As it was, Argentina take on Mexico in the second round (a tricker game than one might imagine, if the Mexicans show up with their “positive sombreros” on, whilst Holland’s prize for a singular lack of invention will be a tough match against Portugal. Don’t expect that one to be a thriller either – they’ve managed just seven goals between them in six games.
Neither side could use the time-honoured stand-by of stating that they had played under-strength teams. Messi started, and looked a handful for a while, and the Dutch were almost at full strength too. It’s no surprise that both teams appeared to be jeered and whistled off the pitch at the end. Of course, you wouldn’t get that impression watching the match on ITV. At half-time and full-time, Stuart Pearce et al waxed lyrically over the amazing technical levels of the teams, without seemingly to bother to mention that neither side could create more than a half-dozen chances between them over the course of the ninety minutes. If this had been the World Cup final, the audience would have been halved in the time between kick-off and full-time.
Meanwhile, Ivory Coast came from two down to beat the poor old Serbs 3-2 in Munich. It was three points that their overall performance in the tournament thoroughly deserved, though they’ll be looking back ruefully on the chances that they missed against the Dutch and Argentina. The Serbs lost a man whilst 2-1 down, too. And there was a bizarre penalty re-take. The referee was the same one that covered England-Paraguay. ‘Nuff said. Impressive stuff, and certainly a platform to build upon. It was certainly a more fitting way to finish off an intriguing group than the dirge that Argentina and Holland concocted between them.
One other thing: it appears that Lionel Messi is also known as Leo Messi. Somehow, this news had previously escaped me. It leads me to the inevitable and obvious conclusion that Leo Blair and Lionel Blair are one and the same person.