World Cup RAM-ble No. 1 - Wishing and Hoping
Sunday, 20th Jun 2010 01:28 by Paul Mortimer
Welcome to my occasional whimsical, idiosyncratic fans’-eye view of the 2010 World Cup!
Comments, opinions and commentary (in no particular order) are loosely based around England’s progress (or lack of it) in the competition - and we’d love to have your own comments and observations on this year’s football extravaganza!
Rams and England fan on-the-spot in SA is Oliver Dean, whose columns you can read here on RamZone. If you want the hard facts and figures of the group results and tables from the World Cup, see RamZone’s very own ‘handy guide’ here:
There are also the BBC’s website pages, which are chock-full of features, blogs, replays and interviews on all the competing nations:
The group stage games began to throw up surprises as teams became less cautious, or risked early elimination if points were not gained.
France floundered, Spain stumbled - and the Germans missed a penalty and were beaten, as some of the European favourites found the going tougher than expected - and I need hardly mention the ineptitude of the England side...
Poor goalkeeping - not just by England ‘keeper Rob Green and controversy over the suitability of the all-new (Adidas) Jabulani match ball - became media themes surrounding the 2010 world competition.
“Jabulani” comes from the Zulu: ’to celebrate’, but not many of the players have celebrated scoring with a spectacular volley or set-piece special with the new ball - and a few goalkeepers must think that the ball has a witchdoctor’s curse on it!
If the 2018 World Cup should come to England, then I’m making an early demand for the match ball to be called “The Shrovey”. It would of course be named after the 800-year old Ashbourne annual football game (of sorts), played on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, reckoned to be just about the first organised football game between two teams! We’ve had over 800 years at it.....and we still can’t beat Algeria!
The Shrovey would be thoroughly tested in the muddy parks and pitches of local football leagues in Derbyshire and beyond, and some cloned Baseball Ground turf would be cultivated for further demanding trials. If the ball behaved predictably under those conditions it would be perfect for the lush green pitches at the exciting new stadia in the seething football hotbeds of Milton Keynes, Bristol and Nothingham.
Fabio Capello's view of the Jabulani is that it’s difficult to understand the trajectory of the ball; other players and coaches criticised it, too. Whilst it’s the same for all teams, there had certainly been a lack of accurate strikes from free kicks and a fair few goalkeeping spills during games - and some pretty poor goalkeeping, too!
Altitude may play a part in the ball’s behaviour, some observers claim. Adidas will no doubt recount all the wonderful scientific development involved (presumably by boffins who never kicked a ball in earnest) but the corporate craving for manufacturers to gain advertising prominence, and the all-important product placement rights seem to supersede a basic need of the game - a good football!
Perhaps the authorities and manufacturers will learn from the controversy and involve clubs, players and coaches to a deeper extent than was the case this time. The Jabulani is supposed to be a technically perfect sphere, but seems to bamboozle the artists and artisans alike when used on a football pitch!
One media pundit had his World Cup junket abruptly curtailed - ITV’s Robbie Earle was sacked after some of his ticket allocation ended up in third party hands instead of only friends and family.
Girls in orange mini-skirts en masse were promoting an unofficial brand of beer at the Holland vs. Denmark game, tickets from Earle’s allocation allegedly passing to the company involved; all-in-all it was a stupid way for Earle to lose his high-profile role in the ITV entourage.
There is no truth in the rumour that oddball orange-person and unemployed ex-Hull and Rams’ boss Phil Brown was seen at the game, clad in a matching mini-skirt.
Robbie Savage was a tad scathing in his radio summary comments for the BBC on the low-excitement content he’d observed in the tournament’s games so far...did he ever play in a World Cup Finals? Is he qualified?
Didn’t Robbie also have a clash of personality with a Welsh manager and walk away from international football? Oh, and Robbie - if it’s been that low on quality, now you know what it’s been like watching the Rams over the last few seasons!
I thought Savage spoke rubbish too in saying that Robert Green should be put on an early flight back home, even before England’s 2nd game....and what if the other goalies suffered an injury, or were suspended, Robbie?
Next, the self-promoting Welshman assured us that Everton’s David Moyes was set to sign him twice, Sav recounting how he asked the Toffees’ boss why he didn’t sign him after all...perhaps it was because he signed some better midfielders, Robbie?
Later in the week, the games became more entertaining and the goals started flowing. Could England improve, as well? It seemed like an age to wait for the Algeria game.
England’s World Cup coverage centred upon the Spurs crock, Ledley King - who was crocked again, and debate over hapless goalkeeper Robert Green, whom I personally hoped Capello would ditch after such a crucial and unforgiveable gaffe.
Perhaps Fabio was also swayed to include King in his final squad by the media clamour surrounding the new London glamour boys at White Hart Lane, who had such a successful Premier League season? Surely, we have fitter, faster defenders somewhere? Sol Campbell, finishing a nomadic season strongly with Arsenal, thought he should have been selected; he may well have a point!
With Rio Ferdinand sidelined, we’re either short of quality cover or Fabio selected players devoid of the required fitness level, who looked short at World Cup level - a strategy with predictable attendant risks.
Monday’s World Cup games commenced with much-fancied Holland easing their way comfortably 2-0 past a toothless Denmark. Japan looked frisky in overcoming a disappointing Cameroon side 1-0 in a mediocre game, and then holders Italy were held 1-1 by a resilient Paraguay team.
Tuesday saw relative minnows New Zealand face Slovakia. NZ had never won a World Cup Finals game - but they shocked the Slovaks with an injury time equaliser in the 1-1 draw.
The Ivory Coast was regarded as a footballing minnow only a few years ago but that’s no longer the case with stars like Didier Drogba in their ranks. They held fancied Portugal 0-0 in a match that failed to live up to its billing, with Ronaldo’s unconvincing diving bringing most of the danger around the Ivorians’ penalty area.
They have perennial tournament favourites Brazil in their group, who beat a brave and well-organised North Korea team 2-1 in Tuesday’s final game. Both the Ivorians and Portuguese might regret not clinching all three points in their opening match.
Wednesday’s saw all the remaining teams participate in their opening group games. Unfancied Honduras held a talented Chile side to only a 1-0 margin and then a battling, resolute Switzerland sprang a huge shock by grabbing a goal, then they withstood a second-half siege to beat star-studded Spain 1-0.
The European Champions are much-tipped as tournament favourites but they couldn’t break down the tenacious Swiss rearguard. That unexpected reverse for the powerful and talented Spanish team certainly made this England fan slightly happier about a mere 1-1 draw against a moderate USA side!
After that surprise it was time for the host nation to take centre stage again, as the Rainbow Nation’s boys took on Uruguay. Unfortunately for the Bofana Bofana, the romantic hopes for South African progress all but disappeared; Uruguay hadn’t read the script.
Uruguay took control with a first-half strike from the in-form Diego Forlan, before it all unravelled for SA. Goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune was dismissed in giving away the penalty from which Forlan scored his country’s second goal.
Uruguay added a third goal without reply, and so the reality of a cold Pretoria night was that the Africans didn’t have the quality that the Uruguayans showed all round the pitch. For once, the vuvuzelas fell silent and the party atmosphere all over the host nation was stifled. They will now struggle to advance from the group stages.
Thursday’s games started with Argentina putting the plucky South Koreans to the sword and just about cementing their passage into the second stage of the tournament. Maradona’s powerful side raced into a 2-0 first-half lead only to be pegged back 2-1 right at the interval.
Argentina weren’t to be denied though, grabbing two more goals in a 4-1 victory as Gonzalo Higuain claimed a hat-trick. With two wins under their belt, the Argentines became the first team to secure their passage to the next stage of the competition.
Next up were Greece, having to win against Nigeria to stay in the competition, after losing to South Korea in their opening game. Greece conceded an early goal and needed the dismissal of the hot-headed Sani Kaita to spark their recovery. It was 1-1 at the interval; Nigeria became their own worst enemies as their goalkeeper spilled a shot for Torosidis to snatch a winner for Greece. It was the Grecians’ first-ever win at a World Cup Finals.
On Thursday evening, Mexico found their cutting edge against a moribund French side. France looked badly motivated, disorganised and found their World Cup survival hanging by a thread after the 2-0 defeat.
Friday was the day we English had been waiting for, but there was another shock result beforehand as Germany fell to Serbia 1-0. After Germany had dominated the opening stages of the match, a controversial, card-happy refereeing performance saw German forward Miroslav Klose sent off after two bookable offences - and the balance of the game suddenly shifted.
Serbia grabbed a goal soon after, as the Germans seethed; and then in missing a second-half penalty, they succumbed to an unexpected defeat. In England’s group, Slovenia took the USA to task, gaining an early 2-0 lead. Ex-Ram Benny Feilhaber made a substitute appearance for the States.
He was a Paul Jewell buy that sank without trace at Derby but achieved what none of the current Rams players could claim - getting some action in the 2010 World Cup. He helped to pep up the USA’s 2nd half recovery, as they clawed it back to 2-2.
England had decamped to Cape Town for the clash with Algeria The 64,000-capacity Green Point Stadium was the venue - somewhat fittingly - on Fabio Capello’s 64th birthday. The $64,000 question was: can England overcome supposedly inferior opposition to confirm their stature as one of the tournament favourites?
Fabio was relieved to have Gareth Barry available to play in midfield. Carragher came in for Ledley King and Capello stuck with Heskey and Rooney up front.
The answer to the $64,000 question was an emphatic NO. They failed on every measure in one of the worst England performances I can ever remember.
In a word, it was turgid. That was the short way of describing England’s utterly insipid display. Hardly an effort on goal worthy of mention, as Algeria buzzed around, making it difficult for England to get their game together right from the first whistle.
There was no movement, no cohesion, no passion, no final ball, no goals from these feted players - and no joy for the huge support in the stadium and millions back home, wishing for some much-needed cheer in these austere Great British times.
Rooney publicly showed his displeasure to the fans’ booing at the final whistle... but Wayne - if people spend all their money and holiday allowance on watching that kind of shocker, then that’s the only way they can let the team know it.
The support for the England team during the game was fantastic, the choruses of “Rule Britannia” and other loyalist songs eclipsing even the usually-incessant rasp of the vuvuzelas. Rooney’s apology was too little, too late. Let your feet do the talking, Wayne; once upon a time, we thought you could do that better than anyone.
So - an out-of-form ‘world-class’ star striker berates displeased travelling fans, a confused coach scratches his head, a captain declares that it wasn’t good enough....all part of the repetitious English nightmare. We all had such high hopes of ending ‘44 years of hurt’ this time around. Who’d be an England fan?
We build up our national side to convince ourselves we’re better than we actually are. Extravagantly successful club coaches from home and abroad flounder when given the challenge of the poison chalice of England management, usually to depart in shame but with a very lucrative contract pay-off. Super-rich, cosseted celebrity players fail to replicate their club form at international level when it most matters.
England hasn’t lost a game yet - whereas Spain, Germany and France all have - but at present, the notion that (should we proceed to the next stage) we could defeat teams like Brazil, Holland and Argentina seems fanciful at best.
So, England now move on to Port Elizabeth to prepare for their crucial final group game versus Slovenia. They look a better side than Algeria -and England must take three points to progress to the next stage. I’m not expecting much now - that way, the disappointment is easier to take.
See you next week; here’s hoping for a safe passage for England, anyway, after all the anguish so far! Come on England!
Photo: Action Images
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