Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Hung, strung and it's time for the quarters

So the second round matches are completed. I must admit, I'm utterly exhausted of it all, though. Not the football, of which there was little on display during this round, but because of the damn referees brandishing cards left, right and centre, killing off all the potential football which could have been played. It was like a red and yellow bingo game with a bunch of foreign geriatrics in black and yellow outfits hugging all the action, all that were missing were some false teeth and the smell of formalhyde. Case in point: Portugal vs Netherlands. That damn Russian must have finished off the whole of St Petersburg's winter vodka rations before the game. I could go on, but just in case he's reading this, I'll stop there (I might wake up in a dugout somewhere with missing limbs and the strong smell of formalhyde (vodka doesn't smell) in my nostrils.

Ghana versus Brazil was was the same. The ref murdered any contest there could have been, despite Ghana trying their best to keep it alive. In the end they only had themselves to blame, setting up their defensive unit on the half-way line: against Brazil that's suicide.

Switzerland versus Ukraine? They take penalties as if they'd also been swiggin' from the botty - a lot like Newcastle now that I think about it.

Italy were lucky. Ref again. Glad no Aussies made it through though.

Spain, who many thought could go all the way, especially playing against a "previously-mediocre" France, proved that they actually still are "the same shedload of underachieving tournament bottlers" as Paul Wilson calls them.

Argentina had to play hard against their Latin American counterparts Mexico, with only a moment of utter brilliance from Maxi Rodriguez proving to be the difference in extra time.

Germany were grand. Shame, Sweden were just outplayed. I think losing within 15 minutes would also dishearten me.

Any other matches? Oh yeah, I think England played somewhere, though I can't really remember because I think I fell asleep. Oh yeah, against Ecuador. I think England won.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Foul weather

One of the few bad things I’ve noted, amongst a myriad of positive points it must be said, about this World Cup has been the attitude of the referees regarding fouls. Before the tournament started, Fifa warned that they would crack down on fouls, especially two-footed lunges and tackles from behind. Sure, this is fair warning and any player committing these fouls should be punished accordingly. But the key words here are: accordingly and fouls.

Firstly, the referees seem to be handling fouls with cotton hands – or whatever the saying is – as they punish ANY tackle from behind, regardless of whether the player has won the ball or not. Now, as far as I know, if you tackle from behind and win the ball fairly it’s not a foul. This just doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. The line between a foul and non-foul should be set more clearly as I think sometimes referees don’t even know when to blow the whistle and when to let play go on. They are also blowing for silly little things like a slight push in mid-air which most fans feel to be a legitimate challenge for a header, or a defender blocking an attacker when they’re running shoulder to shoulder.

Secondly, I feel referees are being oversensitive regarding fouls. They are handing out cards MUCH too easily. Yellow cards are dished out by the dozen in some games, and at the World Cup two yellows in a round mean you miss the next match. In a knock-out competition like this, that will quite likely spell the end of your World Cup (as exemplified by Michael Essien’s absence from their clash with Brazil on Tuesday – but let’s hope not). So player who are on one yellow don’t play to their full-potential – hesitating when going in for tackles and so forth. Referees should take these factors in consideration before booking players willy-nilly.

Attackers aren’t making it any easier for the referees either , though, with players dramatically diving to the ground at only the slightest hint of contact. This has been happening in football for years, but this is the worst case of play-acting I’ve seen to date and it’s no wonder a number of players (too few in my book, though) have been booked for “simulation” as they call it (Arjen Robben etc). It’s still difficult for referees to be 100% accurate every time, especially with the pace of today’s game.

We have seem the dire effects of this free-flowing stream of fouls a number of times this tournament already, most recently last night’s sending off of Lucic for a second bookable offence which was clearly the opposite – unbookable – ending the Swedish dream. USA were also the unlucky recipients of harsh treatment in their crucial match with Ghana, when the African team was awarded a penalty for a foul inside the box which was clearly not worth a penalty. We’ve seem many more examples of this throughout Germany 2006 and it seems unlikely (unluckily) to end at the Round of 16.

So with the implementation of these new “standards” I think the competitive edge has been blunted slightly, making the football less of a high-spirited jostling and grueling battle for supremacy. I just feel the game lacks these things slightly and referees are holding more power in their pocket and haphazardly wielding this power than they should be and matches have become a more tactical and disciplined waiting game. No wonder, Germany are doing so well, Jeurgen Klinsmann took the whole team to watchmaker as part of their pre-tournament build-up. Why? To watch a watchmaker take a watch apart and put it back together – to teach them patience and self-discipline. Maybe he knew something about the way the officials would be blowing their whistles that other teams didn’t.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

And so they're whittled down...

Damn this World Cup rocks. That's actually all I wanted to say. A lot of people thought Brazil were gonna run away with it, but with a poor start every changed their minds ("Oh no, I think Argentina or Spain will win") and then they kicked Japan's asses and now they've changed their minds back again. There are some sumptuous matches coming up: Ghana in the last 16 playing the holders, Portugal versus Holland and tonight the host nation are playing Sweden. It. Is. On. Booyah.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

It's all about the fans

This is why Brazil often wins the World Cup and Turkey, who have not even qualified this year, will never win it.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Afrika Bambaata!

They appeared late and started slowly, but they’re starting to build up a head of African steam. The continents five representing teams are starting to get into the swing and spirit of the World Cup 2006, clearly reaching a high in Ghana’s Saturday display against the world’s pre-eminent football nation.

But let’s start the recap from the beginning: Ivory Coast, or Cote D’Ivoire, depending on where you’re from (it’s Bo Bien Na in Vietnamese) were not bad against Argentina, showing grit to fight back from being two first half goals down, with Drogba’s 82nd minute goal leaving it just a little too late. Their game against Netherlands showed more improvement, again coming back from two goals down. Bakary Kone’s strike left the game in the balance but an intriguing second-half stalemate saw the Africans lose in succession. They should be favourites against a totally demoralised Serbia and Montenegro.

In their debut appearance on the world stage, Angola took on the might of their colonial masters Portugal. Portuguese striker Pauleta struck as early as the fourth minute, leaving the West African team always fighting for an equalizer. Both teams came close a number of times but their finishing was poor. The Angolans fought liked the battle-hardened country they lived in and took heart from the Portuguse defeat, managing to hold the Mexican team, with one-less man on the field for a lot of the second half, to a goalless draw. More than fifty places below them in the Fifa rankings, Angola showed too much respect for Mexico early on and nearly paid the price, but when the game came down to a war of attrition in the second-half, it was the team from Africa who were in the frontline, decades of civil war finally paying off (wow, that’s harsh – I’m just joking – but one should always look at the positives!). With a berth in the next round still to play for, Angola should prove their salt against Iran, waiting to see what happens in the match between Portugal and Mexico.

Ghana. Oh Ghana. Never thought I would say those words, but they deserved all the plaudits for their astonishing display against the Czech Republic., finally breaking the African deadlock at Germany 2006. Despite a dismal start to the World Cup against Italy, these World Cup virgins started their second match with a renewed vigour and aspiration not seen before at this tournament. The fastest goal of this World Cup so far, in the second minute by Asamoah Gyan, clearly highlighted their intentions. I had just watched this eye-opening documentary on African muti, or juju as they call it in West Africa, and its influence and role in football on BBC earlier the day. Entitled Football Magic, a BBC journalist came to Africa to investigate the use of this “witchcraft” in football. The documentary explained how juju and “muti-men” played a large part in Senegal’s upset over France in 2002, Beckham’s broken leg when they visited South Africa and other strange football results in which African teams were present. The resulting match against the Czechs left me wondering whether there might not be some truth in all of this. Whatever the case, Ghana reinforced their entertaining display with a second goal – a screamer from 12 yards out by Muntari Sulley. Despite the great goals, what was most impressive was the midfield hold the Ghanaians had over the Czeck Republic’s world-class players like - Pavel Nedved, Karel Poborsky and Thomas Rosicky - spearheaded by their captain Stephen Appiah and the most expensive African footballer ever Michael Essien. Let’s go Ghana! With one game left against the USA, their chances look good of upsetting the books and qualifying for the next round.

Togo, seemed like being the first African team to record a victory at Germany 2006, after taking the lead against South Korea, but two goals in the second half from the Koreans snuffed those hopes. Tonight’s game against Switzerland (who, incidentally seem favourites to top the group at the moment after France’s poor run of form continues) may be a hurdle too high, but I believe that the early kickoff in Dortmund’s heat may play into the Africans’ hands. With Ghana setting the ball rolling, don’t be surprised if Adebayor and his Sparrowhawks claw a victory against his Gunner teammate Senderos’ Swiss.

Well, there are actually five African teams at the World Cup, with Tunisia completing the contingent, but because they’re so far north and only speak Arabic no-one actually considers them African anyways. No just joking, I have to go give class now so I’ve run out of time. Good luck to Tunisia though, who are playing the impressive Spanish tonight, they’ll need it. Yoh yoh yoh.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Sorely missed stardom

With the World Cup into the second round of games in the group stage, one of the biggest talking points has been the form, or lack thereof, of some of the world's biggest stars. Those who have managed to return to fitness after a bevy of injuries hit the football world pre-tournament (most notably of course being that of Wayne Rooney - proud new owner of the world's most famous metatarsal) have failed to live up expectations and one wonders whether their teams' managers have bowed to national pressure and thrown them back into the fray too early.

This seems to be the case with Ronaldo McDonaldo who's stature as ace marksman is shrinking faster than his waistline is growing. His previous season with Real Madrid was dismal and perhaps only his big match temperament persuaded Parreira to include him in a squad that boasts the attacking prowess of messrs Ronaldinho, Kaka and Adriano. In the game against Croatia he was ineffective to say the least, whilst being fed consistently by the midriff...I mean midfield, he managed just one shot at goal - which was off target. The once-golden boy of Brazil seems set for an anticlimatic end to his World Cup career unless his form improves drastically, but I can't help thinking that the bell has tolled for this fading star.

Ronaldo's Madrid teammate Raul has also been disappointing, after being left on the bench against Ukraine, only to watch David Villa steal the show with a near-hatrick. Young gun Fernando Torres is well-poised to take over the reigns from his idol and with an eye for goal - as shown with the blast to score Spain's last in their 4-0 thumping of Ukraine - it is no suprise that he is being courted by the likes of Manchester United and my beloved Newcastle.

Ukraine looked like they were in denial in that particular match, after a see-saw media battle regarding talisman Andriy Shevchenko's fitness. Depression turned to euphoria as the soon-to-be Chelsea forward proved fit enough to play 90 minutes but the status quo depression sooned returned, as Vladyslav Vashchuk was sent off for a dubious foul in the penalty box on Fernando Torres two minutes into the second half. Like Ronaldo, Shevchenko looked like an obsolete footballing dinosaur, not living up to his reputation as goal-pilferer supremo, and not managing a single shot at goal.

Another notable inefficient "superstar" has been the well-documented case of Michael Owen, England's sweetheart, whose match fitness is still well-below par, but perhaps he can prove his critics wrong tonight with a display worthy of his reputation. Similarly and yet probably more so has been the baffling poor performance of Thierry Henry for France. Sure, he's at his electrifying best (and most comfortable) for his London club Arsenal and not for his country, but his play against neighbours Switzerland was utterly disappointing and lacked the va va voom football fans know he possesses.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The sub way

Despite a fiery start to World Cup 2006 with hosts Germany taking on less-fancied Costa Rica in an, excuse the sports cliché, enthralling encounter that saw the ball find the back of the net six times, the tournament has slowed down considerably. This is not to say that it has become boring, all it means is that tactics are starting to play much more of a role. This sentiment is shared by Paul Jewell who pleaded fans not to siren the alarm after England’s disappointing encounter against Paraguay.

The main example of this has been the moment of clarity and experience shown by the always-impressive Guus Hiddink whilst trailing 0-1 to Japan. Hiddink decided to bring on Everton’s attacking midfielder Tim Cahill and national team goal machine John Aloisi (24 goals in 42 matches). The inspired substitutions immediately paid dividends with Cahill finding the net twice within 5 minutes (and with about the same amount of time left in regulation) and Aloisi rubbing salt Japanese wounds by scoring in time added on.

The “sub way” also proved effective for South Korea’s man in charge in their match against Togo. Despite being named after an orange liqueur, coach Dick Advocaat brought on Jung Hwan Anh in the second half after Mohamed Kader opened the scoring for Togo in the first half. After Chun Soo Lee broke Togolese hearts, Anh finished off the African minnows with a splendid shot from outside the box to beat the goalkeeper and earn Korea all three points.

Some would say that this type of managerial brilliance cannot be taught or bought – I beg to differ – sure, it cannot be taught but if the price is right the coach will come. If only Bafana Bafana could dosh up and snatch a coach of this caliber…

Official Notice:

For the next three weeks or so this blog will persevere and withstand the urge to post anything non-football related and abate this terrible habit entirely. Thus, this blog - and its webmaster - will kneel down and, on a daily basis, obey and pray to the fickle gods of football. Thank you and sorry. Ola!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The beautiful game

It truly is. It may look like a barbaric past-time (the players and fans alike) to some, but there's something exquisitely spiritual about fooball.

I know the same can be said for rugby - exemplified by the last move of the game, one team needing a try to win with the flyhalf offloading to a center who breaks his tackle and dives down under the poles as the siren blows. Or cricket when, with one ball left, the last man plays a classic cover drive over mid-off to secure victory in an ODI or a stoic hundred from a part-time batsman to force a draw in appalling conditions in a 5-day test match against a much stronger side.

But in no other sport can the fate of a nation's economy, unity and overall well-being come down to one simple kick, just 12-yards, between two poles and under a bar, with one man standing between two such utter extremes: hero or villain of a nation. In no other sport can two tiny islands whose national football team are made up of a number of journeymen, a few professionals and an unified passion for their country, take on the might of a years-old footballing nation and not only survive to tell the tale but boast about it.

In no other sport can a team of dreadlocked Caribbeans, 30 spots below their opposition in the world rankings, hold-out for 90 minutes, 45 of which being played with one less man on the field, to force a 0-0 draw against perennial World Cup achievers Sweden. Trinidad and Tobago must have drawn inspiration from the classic underdog comedy Cool Runnings prior to the match, especially substitute goalkeeper Shaka Hislop, whose acrobatic heroics made sure that last night's match will be talked about for many years over a glass of dark rum or coconut cocktail on watching the sunset on the two tiny islands. This is what the World Cup is all about. This is the beautiful game.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Oleeé Olé Olé Oleeé!

It's on like Donkey Kong biaaatch!

Yup, I can feel it, like the Peter Tosh classic reggae tchoon goes: "I woke up this morning, wit' a very funny feelin', and dat feelin', was an unusual feelin', from da tip of my toes yeah, to da top of my head yeah, I went to da doctor and guess what he told me? He said; 'Son, you've gotta footballamilitis!'"

It's World Cup fever yeeeaaah!!! I feel like a little boy who's about to open his presents on Christmas Day. I can't wait until tonight, it's gonna be the raddest thing ever (apart from Christmas). As they say, there's life, then here's football and then there's death. The only problem is I don't know who to support anymore. African ubuntu spirit tells me Ghana or Ivory Coast can be 1990's Cameroon or 2002's Senegal but with the skill and samba spirit of Ronaldinho's boys i'm not so sure...

Apart from supporting the African teams, I would really like England to go all the way - the mere sight of seeing England take the trophy ON German soil and watching the Deutschland Über-fans' faces and the smug satisfaction of the Barmy Army is incentive enough.

Otherwise, my hopes of the Netherlands taking it this year, having missed out so controversiall on the previous globle spectacle, have been dealt a harsh blow with the injuries to the mercurial Rafael Van de Vaart, stalwart Philip Cocu and young midfield sensation Wesley Sneijder. Hopefully Van Basten can help the Oranje pull this one out of the bag. But logic tells my that the rhythm of Rio may just sway Brazil towards consecutive titles.

Kay sera sera, it's gonna be one hell of a month and with my parents coming to visit for the weekend at the end of the month on a short detour of their Asian trip - expectations are high...

Thursday, June 01, 2006

And in the news today...

"It's like the latest fashion, it's like a spreading disease" - Come out and play by The Offspring.

That's what they said about the internet, then blogging, then 3g technology. Now it's It has become the 21st most visited site on the net and if you don't know what it is you must have been living in a cave in Tajikistan with Bin Laden and the boys. Journalist Leo Bendictus wrote a lighthearted review of this semi-new phenomenon. I must say, it hasn't really impressed me much (not just because the site has a strict "no-porn" policy) but, well, most of it is just amateur videos at their worst made by American (yes, them again) teenagers with too much time on their hands. Nonetheless, it really is worth checking out.

"Oh to be famous, hath the stench of superego smackethd upon it" - Willem Wikkelspies

Dan Nicholls, sports editor of i-africa online, has a sports news column which is delivered in thousands of inboxes daily. Even if you're not into sports at all, his fantastically sadistic take on all sports imaginable (including the utterly sardonic "Graeme Smith Diaries" and the recent addition of the "Jake White Diaries") would single-handedly make it a pleasure to check your mail. What I'm trying to get at is that this guy's writing is really funny, and this is a blatant attempt to engorge his status as someone whose name can be dropped and recognised in certain circles (not sure whether the connotation will be positive or negative - he takes the piss out of many a commentator, athlete and coach daily), and that he included my email to him in his column yesterday. Okay, mine wasn't the only one he included, and it was right at the bottom of the coloum, but come on, at least he included it! :P

"O say, does that star-spangled banner yet waveO'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?" The Star-Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key (1814)

And in other news seems my Yankee-bashing will continue (thanks to Alet's input) for a wee while longer. Firstly, check out the Guardian article in which ex-vice president of the USA Al Gore takes it to the man, calling him and his administration "a renegade band of right-wing extremists". Thanks for the clarity Al, I always had the misconception that it was a liberal, democratic administration that were adherent to the rule of law and human rights. Hmm... anyways, check out this other wonderful piece of journalism courtesy of the most objective newsroom in all of journalism. It's about Brangelina's baby (didn't they have one of these ridiculous Hollywood abbreviations for Ben Affleck and J-Lo as well? Something Like Ben-Jen or something?) who was born in *shudder* Namibia. The headline says it all: "Brad and Angelina's Baby Lucky To Be Alive". Come on. At least Chris Roper of fame (haha) picked this one up and gives them a piece of his mind on his blog.

I feel better now, back to work.