22 June 2010 – Day 12

With Portugal, Spain and Chile all winning yesterday and giving a lesson in how to beat weaker opposition, the second round of games have come to an end. Today will see the start of the final group games and the airports of South Africa get busy as two teams and their fans depart each day from now till Friday. It also gives a chance to indulge in a little “what if scenarios”. So if we take the tables as they stand now the last 16 draw would look like this:

Uruguay            v          South Korea

Slovenia            v          Germany

Ghana                 v          USA

Argentina         v          Mexico

Netherlands     v          Italy

Brazil                   v          Spain

Paraguay           v          Japan

Chile                    v          Portugal

It would see a number of the favourites go head to head and leave the competition with a more open look. One  game of huge significance would be a Quarter Final involving the winners from Netherlands/Italy v Brazil/Spain and leave other tournament favourites (Germany, Argentina and Portugal) with a less demanding route to the final. But all that’s speculation and I’m forgetting that England will win 4 nil tomorrow and storm into the Quarter Finals and go rampaging on to collect a glorious World Cup win……

Oh sorry Doctor – yes of course I’ll keep taking the tablets………

21 June 2010 – Day 11

Could be quite a painful week, today is just the calm before the storm. Tuesday a budget that will leave us all worse off and then the trauma of Wednesday and what England will treat us to against Slovenia. I can’t wait.

Already the excuses are being lined up, with the BBC reporting that Mr Capello would quit if England fail to qualify for the last 16. Hasn’t he just signed a 4 year deal? When the Capello era started the players were unanimous in their public support of the  no-nonsense, disciplined style of their new manager. All through qualifying no one questioned this approach. Funny then that as soon as the results in the opening games have not gone as planned, the same players now say that the management style is seen as restrictive, heavy handed and over bearing. It appears that John Terry has the answer, the players just need a couple of beers and it will all be sorted. The way they played Friday they’ll need to go on a drinking binge till Wednesday to put it right…….

20 June 2010 – Day 10

The phrase there is “always someone worse off” comes to mind this morning. Whilst the grizzly details of Friday may be still fresh in the mind, I couldn’t help but think about our dear French cousins. One minute you are the darling of the crowd, European and World Champions and as recently as 2006 World Cup finalists, the next minute – sacre bleu!

The French have yet to score in two games after a goalless draw with Uruguay and a two nil loss to Mexico and seem to be heading for the departure lounge earlier than expected. At the moment the squad resembles a bunch of surly and petulant 15 year olds on a Geography field trip, who are giving the form teacher the run around. To cap it all “Le Sulk”, Monsieur Anelka, has been sent home from the trip after a half-time rant at the soon to depart Coach Domenech. See I feel better already….

Meanwhile Groundhog Day continued with the fixtures yesterday with more unfilled stadiums and goalkeeping errors. Two for the price of one yesterday with Netherlands handed victory after Japan’s custodian of the net Kawashima palmed one in. Not to be outdone, Ghana glove man Kingson caught a big dose of dropsy in gifting Australia their goal. Highlight though of the game, the sending off of Harry Kewell. Having flayed around in the opening part of the game like a rag doll in the wind, he then goes and handles the ball on the line. Having watched the replay, I was for a nanosecond sympathetic to his plea that it wasn’t handball and then I remembered:

(a) he left Leeds without a backward glance

(b) he plays in Turkey

(c) he’s Australian

Bye bye Harry….. And since my mood is so positive, thanks to Denmark and Cameroon last night for an end to end game. It might not have been technically fantastic, but it had commitment, passion, pride, desire and a bit of drama. Are you listening England?

19 June 2010 – Day 9

“…Another nervy 90 minutes looms……not gloomy, just realistic…” was my closing line yesterday. Even I didn’t expect that it would manifest itself in the drawn game last night in such an awful fashion.

A performance that lacked passion, intensity and belief. A side that looked bereft of confidence and ideas, blatantly uncomfortable on the ball and less technically capable than their supposed “inferior” opponents. The most worrying aspect for me was the lack of a Plan B, as the 4-4-2 set up was clearly not working, but Mr Capello just kept ploughing on with it.

As for our star Number 10 at the end of the game, well Wayne, let me just say this. Fans have paid thousands of pounds to watch this tournament. England played badly and so people are entitled to express their dissatisfaction. Wayne did you expect to come off after that to rapturous applause?

At least England go into the last game on Wednesday knowing what they have to do. We’ll be reminded that it has happened before in other World Cups and that England will pull it out of the bag. But surely it shouldn’t have had to come to this. 

When the draw was made for the World Cup Groups, The Sun ran the headline EASY (England, Algeria, Slovenia, Yanks). Perhaps this morning they should be asking EASY? (England Are Shocking. Y?)

18 June 2010 – Day 8

First day yesterday when I didn’t watch any of the games “live” and instead settled on catching up on the three fixtures through highlights on the internet. From what I saw I’m left with the following conclusions:

  • Argentina look great going forward, but are not so clever at the back.
  • Higuian’s hat-trick was a lesson in the art of goal-poaching. All three within the six yard box.
  • This World Cup is racking up the goalkeeping gaffs and sending-offs aren’t too far behind.
  • Complete madness from Nigeria as they self destruct and had Greece three points.
  • What goes around, comes around. They’ll be dancing in the streets of Dublin, as the French look simply inept against the lively Mexicans.

 There, who needs to sit through 270 minutes of football………..

And then it dawns on me, England kick-off in about 10 hours. Wouldn’t it be great if we believed that England will command the game from start to finish and come away with a highly efficient 2-0 win. However, we just know it’s not going to be like that. Another nervy 90 minutes looms……not gloomy, just realistic.

17 June 2010 – Day 7

At last! A genuine shock result in the World Cup as favourites Spain came unstuck against the Swiss. If 2010 is not to be remembered for the quality of the football, then let’s at least have some major upsets. So well done to the Alpine boys on the result and their early claim for the Keystone Kops award for the most chaotic goal finish of the tournament – Quality!

Now I’ve never met Diego Forlan and he seems a reasonable sort of bloke when interviewed, but he’s making a lot of enemies recently. In May, he goes and wrecks Fulham’s Europa League Final dream with the winner in extra time and then last night demolished the dreams of the Bafana Bafana and neutrals watching. To be fair, Forlan had an absolute stormer and as the penalty went in with 10 minutes to go, I imagine the Uruguayan fans struck up a chorus of “podemos ver que escabullirse, podemos ver que escabullirse” as South African fans poured out of the stadium.  

Of course, it would be remiss if I didn’t mention that today the domestic fixtures are released. I’m sure they will be scanned just as eagerly by the England squad today as fans across the country.

16 June 2010 – Day 6

Well not even Brazil could get this tournament bursting to life. Yes there were some nice flicks, dribbles and touches, but generally it was another night of tough viewing. Let hope that with the second games in the Group stages there is a greater sense of urgency and purpose. So far, too many teams just seem glad to not to have lost their opener.

Sad to see as well that the stadium wasn’t full either which is quite remarkable given that the fixture involved Brazil. Various reasons have been put forward, that range from the pricing structure of tickets, hotels and flights (for those in South Africa and fans coming in from other countries), fears around security and today a story has emerged that tickets bought by the South African government for distribution, are being left unused. Remarkably, friends who are in the England Official Supporters Club are telling me they are getting e-mails saying tickets are available for all games right through to the Final. Are FIFA worried about this? The answer is quite simply – No. Any country hosting a World Cup has to make certain financial guarantees, so for FIFA there is no financial risk. FIFA also make a big issue about any tournament leaving a legacy for the country once the World Cup comes to an end. What is South Africa going to be left with? Debt as a result of meeting FIFA’s financial commitment? What about the stadiums’ – how are these to be used in the future? When the circus leaves town and the sound of vuvuzela’s is a distant memory, will the World Cup have left South Africa a better place?

15 June 2010 – Day 5

Watching the Italy v Paraguay game last night and the weather conditions it took place in, I was reminded of another World Cup. The torrential rain was reminiscent of the 1974 competition in West Germany which was dogged by bad weather. Images of ground staff frantically trying to sweep rain off the pitch seemed a constant image on our TV screens as much as the football. I think on a couple of occasions, local fire services were involved to try and pump water off the pitches. It also struck me that there seemed another similarity between that 1974 and 2010. The sound of the vuvuzela at the games in South Africa has divided opinion. Personally, it is part of the event and I’m not bothered by it. In terms of the link to 1974, I can remember that tournament being accompanied by a constant drone of air horns. I don’t think there was all the fuss there is now.

As well as the furore about the vuvuzela, there has been much talk about the Jabulani, the Official World Cup ball. For me there is an element of the power of suggestion. Once people start saying, “…the ball is light… it’s difficult to control…goalkeepers will struggle with it…”, then the seeds have been planted. Players subconsciously have absorbed these thoughts. Can the ball be blamed for the goalkeeping errors so far? The lack of goals from free-kicks? The increased number of occasions that goalkeepers have been able to kick the ball from one end of the pitch to the other? Over hit passes? Poor control? It has been suggested that the altitude may also have a part to play in how the ball reacts. Yes there maybe something in it, but at the end of the day, these are supposed to be international players, in any game the conditions and equipment are the same for both sides. Gentleman, no more excuses, just get on and play.

14 June 2010 – Day 4

When I was younger I thought,”… wouldn’t it be great to be able to watch football all day…” So I put this theory to the test yesterday. Now you might be thinking why on earth would I sit down to three games I have no interest in at all. Well there is method in my madness. Algeria v Slovenia provided the chance to check out the opposition in England’s Group, Serbia v Ghana was my chance to watch my “sweepstake” selection and Australia v Germany – well in sporting context I can’t stand either team but genuinely thought it would be a good game.

So with a strong coffee and a sausage and tomato sarnie in hand, the football marathon began. At the end of the 90 minutes, memorable only for some more comedy keeping for the Slovenian goal and the Algerian substitute who having come on lasted 15 minutes as he managed to get himself sent off, I was reaching for something stronger than coffee and realising that England’s Group does not contain a great deal of quality.

Still I had my adopted team Serbia next up in what proved to be a bit of a strange game. Another 90 minutes, another sending off and another game settled by a single goal. I’m not quite sure what the Serbian player thought he was doing when he decided to handle the ball in the box and gift Ghana a penalty, but am sure it produced a volley of Serbia’s finest gutter language from fellow players, coach and spectators. And so with that loss my sweepstake pound has a forlorn and rather short future. Don’t worry boys it’s only Germany next.

Ah yes, the Germans (not to be confused with that classic Fawlty Towers episode). After two games of limited quality I must admit I was flagging. Even the enjoyment of a flow of well chilled lagers was on the wane. And who do you root for when you dislike both teams? Sod it I had come this far, I was determined to see it through. On reflection it was worth it. Were the Germans that good or the Aussies that poor? Whatever your opinion, it was the first marker laid down by a team in the tournament so far.

My marathon was done; at least it had ended on a good note. All day football? I’ll be glad to get back to work………….

13 June 2010 – Day 3

The morning after the night before. As England awakes this morning and shakes off its hangover, Mr Capello is left with a headache centred on the conundrum of the goalkeeping position. The papers and TV will analyse what happened for ever and a day until the next England game, with typical English media hysteria. Let’s have some reality about the situation.

England would have won the game but for that mistake. Overall we created enough chances to win. There are two games to go – win both and we progress. A draw whilst disappointing is not the end of the World.

When do England ever do anything the easy way?  A rollercoaster month no doubt awaits.

Three games to feast on today starting with England’s other Group opponents (Algeria and Slovenia), the clash of Germany and Australia and my pick of the day Serbia and Ghana! That’s only because Serbia are my Office Sweepstake team.