Wednesday, June 28, 2006

We Love You Curt

A pause to remember a friend. Normal service will be resumed soon.

Curtis was one of the most extraordinary people I've ever met and he moved on 6 years ago today.

Here's a song for them what loved him...

Sunday, June 25, 2006

What a couple of days

So, we've got Scolari again...3rd time lucky?

Obviously that referee was insane, and despite the fact that it's obviously good for England that they are without Deco, but still, I can't help but feel sorry for him.

Germany were once again not really challenged - the Sweden that played in the second half against England never turned up. Once again they looked good going forward, but we won't know how good they are at the back until later in the week, when we'll really find out. Because they'll be playing Argentina - I knew it was going to be their day against a very impressive Mexico when Heinze avoided a DEFINITE red just before half time...*Maybe* Walcott could have made up that gap but Roberto Ayala certainly wouldn't have. Argentina looked a little shaky at the back mind you, and that will give everyone hope...

That game between Portugal and Holland was crazy and I can't help feeling sorry for Ruud - not even getting on as a sub, probably losing his club, and out of the world cup...Portugal, even without Deco, will be a huge threat to England, but I'd rather take them on than a full contingent of the Dutch...

So onto England. I'm sure the "media" will be slating England for "only" winning 1-0 against "lowly" Ecuador. But that's not a fair reflection I don't think. Rooney was absolutely magnificent, for almost the full 93 minutes. Joe Cole had an off day, as did Lampard (well, Lampard's having an off-world-cup). If Frankie had had his shooting boots on it could easily have been 2 or 3. Alright, Becks *was* a bit rubbish but obviously he was the match winner. Rio looked good, Carrick looked good, Ashley Cole looked great, Terry was poor but has plenty more in the tank. Bringing Lennon on worked a treat and he held the ball up brilliantly. I thought the formation worked pretty well, and I think we can beat Portugal. And if we do, it will mean we've raised our game and then, I say again, it could be a sight to see...

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Note to Lars Lagerbeck

Congratulations on your excellent name. You may want to think about not making substitutions whilst your star striker is waiting to take a penalty which could make him your countries all time greatest goal scorer in world cups and keep you in the tournament. You know. Just a thought...

Not that anyone is going to mind or anything...

But I've fallen behind with the ol' World Cup blogging! Time for a Batch 3 round up, written as I watch Germany take a 4th minute lead against Sweden - Podolski has just scored and, as he did with his first goal in the tournament, run over to the German bench to celebrate with the subs.

So, Batch 3 - It featured, if not the best, than at least my favourite goal of the tournament so far. It featured the most disappointing game so far in Holland against Argentina. It featured the most heartwrenching moment as St Michael's knee crumpled under him. It featured the single most dull game so far in Tunisia vs Ukraine. It featured a Brazil team that finally showed up, and a French team who managed to suceed despite what appeared to be an overwhelming weight of desire and expectation and nervousness threatening to defeat them in a way Togo never looked likely to. It featured the first game of the tournament that I haven't seen all the goals from in Ivory Coast vs Serbia and Montenegro, notable also for being the only game of the tournament which will be the last ever for a whole actual country. (Podolski's just scored again). It also saw some awful refeering...There was something strangely satisfying about Graham Poll's disastrous triple yellow card action. English commentators and pundits and journalists are always so sniffy about "foreign" referees, and it's vaguely amusing to see them all with egg on their faces, although my heart goes out to Mr Poll himself...In a vaguely related note, SURELY yellow cards that keep you out of crucial games should be appealable?

Right, I'm off to belatedly change around my fantasty football team...We are in the knockout stages at last, and I think predictions at this stage risk serious fool-hardiness, so I'm not even going to try. Except to say that I predict that before this world cup is out we will have seen at least one properly convincing display by England. I hope I'm not wrong on that...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

"You fell asleeeep?"

Finally, a second half doze! It took most of 35 games, and some of them a little dull, in warm weather...I'm normally fairly inclined to fall asleep in front of the telly, but I haven't so much as nodded off so far. Until today - the first half of Mexico Portugal was a good half of football too, but somehow my heavy eyelids got the better of me. Still, I saw enough to boldly predict that Mexico will go out next round, whether they play Argentina or Holland, and that Portugal will cause either side problems. It's getting interesting now! And just at that key moment, I'm starting to nod off...

Ing-er, are we really sure about this-and

Watching Michael Owen crumble out of the world cup last night was a terrible moment. Topping the group was a better one. It's very sad for Sir Michael and indeed it's not good news for England, but all the speculation that it might lead to Sven playing 4-5-1 is promising.

We were slightly better last night than we had been against T&T and we were slightly better against T&T than we were against Paraguay, so there is still some hope - the winning of the group was absolutely vital - Ecuador are obviously no mugs, but it's an infinitely favourable tie to playing Germany and gives us another game to find our groove before we face the really big sides. And the groove is there to be found. Joe Cole is playing out of his skin - much will be written about the incredible goal he scored last night (individual goal of the tournament so far, surely) but my favourite Joe Cole moment last night was the little flick up of his head that enabled him to see that Gerrard had peeled away at the far end of the box before he crossed the ball which Gerrard powered home. It's the kind of awareness of the game around him that has improved so much - he wasn't looking to dribble the ball unecessarily, he was looking for others, to devestating effect. Gerrard was magnificent in his Rooney replacing role - Roy of the Rovers stuff, clearing the ball from the goal line and scoring the crucial goal. Our defense looked inexplicably shaky on crosses, but I don't mind that too much, given that it hasn't stopped us winning the group, because I think they'll get it together. Rooney was magnificent in the first half, and there's plenty more to come from him.

We are miles behind the top teams, but there's a lot of room for optimism in amongst the doom and gloom. And we won the group. Which is good.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Is it fair to describe this performance as ruthlessly efficient?

I am reluctant to, given the cliche, and the stereotypical overtones, but it would be a fair appraisal. In proper lazy hack fashion, I'm writing this 15 minutes before full time, Germany are 3-0 up without having had to exactly break their necks. Ecuador have rested key players and look much weaker for it, but Germany have looked really dangerous going forward - Podolski breaking his duck was quite a moment, and the crowd went absolutely balistic. The fans are singing "Jurgen Klinsmann" with some considerable relish - Germany have probably already performed better than expected and you can sense a real feeling that they could improve still further and cause some of the "bigger" teams trouble. It will be very interesting to see their defense (which has looked better than it did in the first game) against world class attacking lineups - if England do manage to get a result against Sweden it means the Germans will play Sweden or T&T - a pretty favourable draw in anyone's book.

Talking of England getting a result, the best thing about this result is that it means all talk of whether England should throw the Sweden game if Ecuador top the group are now redundant. If everything goes according to WallChartPredicting 101 Argentina will meet Germany in the quarter finals, and since one of them always beats us, I wouldn't be sorry to see either of them go...

Batch 2

Best Hair: Wilhelmson.

Best Goal: Durr! Cambiasso...

The Dude that refereed England Paraguay Memorial Shocking Refereeing Moment of the Tournament award: The Argentinian ref who took approximately 3 months to send off the defender then booked Gyan for taking the penalty too early.

The France in 2002 memorial award for not turning up at the tournament: France!

The "I really wish ITV had a red button service so I could listen to five live commentary in synch with the pictures" award: A hotly contested award, give then paucity of quality on ITV, but I think the dream team of Champion and Beglin just pip it.

The Greavsie Funny Old Game Award: Group E. The performances in Batch 2 in no way whatsoever reflected the performances in batch 1. Maybe Argentina will turn rubbish after all.

The "Oh my goodness, why couldn't we have been in Togo's group? We'd have walked it!" award: The Ivory Coast

The Trinidad and Tobago 0-0 upset award: Angola

The "If Fantasy Football was still on they'd show this clip over and over again" award: Graham Poll's beautifully weighted pass to set up the Ukraine against the Saudis.

Roll on batch 3!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Catching Up

So, real life has got in the way and, though I have managed to watch most of all the games, I've not really been able to write about them...Here's some thoughts...

1-0 is not a defendable lead. Someone should have told Thierry and co that...

The Czech Republic make England's striker crisis look like a cake walk - they looked really toothless against the super impressive Ghana (whose second goal I celebrated more enthusiastically than any non-england goal of the tournament.)

Ghana may well regret that chance where they got themselves caught offside unecessarily and had a goal ruled out, because goal difference could well be a factor in that group.

They also may regret missing that penalty, in which case they should sue that Argentinian referee who caused a massive delay by taking three weeks to send off the Czech defender. The booking to Gyan was disgraceful as well - as if he was taking that first penalty to timewaste! It was the worst bit of refereeing so far.

That whole group is really proving that football might just be a funny old game after all - the Czechs and Italy looked so impressive in their first games and so the USA so profoundly unimpressive in theirs, but in the second batch of games it all changed round. This gives us all hope, in that Argentina might not continue to play like that.

The sending off of Mastroani of the US was the most blatant bit of levelling the playing field by a ref who had sent someone off and wasn't sure of himself of the world cup so far.

I hereby boldly predict that the ironically impressive in defeat Aussies will go through in second from that group.

The BBC's red button service, offering five live commentary is well worth using, except maybe for Jonathan Pearce games.

There's a South Korean player, who may be number 17 I think who can genuinely pull off a mullet without looking stupid.

Angola asked Mourinho for advice before the tournament because his wife was born there. He obliged and it seems to be working.

Brazil, it turns out, are not that good after all...(does that sound like famous last words to anyone else?) Ronaldo looked a tiny bit more up for it against the Aussies than he had against Croatia, but only a tiny bit.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Viva Ricardo! Viva Angola!

Well, we had a festival of football this lunchtime, two excellent teams going at each other this tea time and we've just seen a country which has barely begun recovering from a civil war hold Mexico (who looked fairly impressive against Iran and are ranked very highly), largely thanks to a goalie who doesn't have a club. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: This really is the beautiful game.

Aurevoir Cote D'Ivoire

Well, another one bites the dust. The Ivory Coast follow Poland, Costa Rica, Serbia and Montenegro and Paraguay out of the World Cup and they can count themselves as thoroughly unfortunate to have been drawn in the group of death-by-glorious-football. They have been, in attacking terms, by far the best African side in the tournament but they've come up against the best team in the tournament and another very good team. From what I've seen so far the Dutch are up there with Italy and the Czech Republic as teams with genuine ability performing at, or close to their best. Their back four did absolutely brilliantly today and only a moment of magic from Bakari Kone beat Edwin Van Der Saar, who looked in imperious form. As a United fan, it was great to see Ruud getting a goal - there was even talk that he might have made up with Fergie - and if Robben, despite a serious problem with selfishness, keeps up his form so far they could be a real threat further down the line. Van Basten has got them incredibly well organised and their game with Argentina could be amazing...

Argentina! Argentina!

By 'eck son, that was a right good kick about weren't it? (Sorry, no idea why I'm writing in a terrible approximation of a northern dialect.)

Argentina were quite simply stunning - they played breath taking football for almost the full 90 minutes and 6 was the least they deserved. Cambiasso's goal will be shown over and over again till time immemorial, and at last Alberto's 1970 goal has a genuine rival for best team goal ever scored at a world cup. Aesthectically, I'm concerned that Cambiasso's slightly mis-hit finish will count against it, but the build up (24 passes don't you know) and Crespo's backheel were out of this world. None of the other goals were exactly shabby.

So, it looks like whoever wins this world cup is going to have to beat Argentina, and it's not going to be easy, but I'm not sure I'd agree that it's already a forgone conclusion that they will be taking their first world cup home from Europe. The key difference between them and the others who are there or thereabouts is that they've already hit a smooth, purring top gear. I know it appears ridiculous to suggest this after the T&T game yesterday and the sheer majesty of the Argentinian performance today, but I do still believe that England could have a team to challenge them...

The half time analysis on the BBC, comparing the positional play of the Argentinian midfield to Englands was extremely illuminating - if we can find away to bridge the gap between defense and attack more effectively we'll be yet another step closer to being the world beaters we could be. And if, and it's a HUGE if, we end up playing Argentina in the final of this world cup with a fit and on form Rooney and Owen up front and a midfield which has clicked we would have nothing to fear (except of course Tevez, Riquelme, Saviola, Crespo, Messi, towering genius central defenders, tenacious full backs who add firepower going forward and the most effective midfield engine room in the tournament)

Oh who am I kidding, let's all go home now and give them the thing!

EDIT: I should also probably add, in the interests of fairness, the following piece of information. It may have been the hayfever, and the fact that it kept me up most of the night, but Mick McCarthy made me laugh out loud...Kezman had gone down very easily under a challenge, and Big Mick, with the disdain only he can muster said "he'd have put up more a fight if his wallet was being nicked..." It tickled me for some reason...

Thursday, June 15, 2006

We're through!!

I can't BELIEVE how negative the analysis has been. We're through! After two games! We're going into our final game against Sweden and WE'RE ALREADY THROUGH! This, in my lifetime, is a unique experience. The first world cup I remember, we needed to win by 3 to get through (and we did, at that...)

As well as the factual positives I thought there were a lot of other positives. Michael Owen IS getting better, and looking a bit sharper. Rooney's back! Crouch scored! T&T really worked hard and were so well organised and up for it (to say it was their world cup final may be a cliche, but it's also true) and we still managed to beat them. Ok, so Crouch and Lampard both missed a couple of chances, but we looked vibrant, positive and purposeful for most of the game and most crucially of all Sven made exciting, brave and effective subsitutions which won the game. Beck's crossing was, for the most part, superb, Downing and Aaron Lennon made a real difference, Gerrard scored a blinder - Bruvvers and sisters, do not be downhearted! Alright, we don't look like Argentina yet but the pieces might just be falling into place, and we could just peak at the right moment.

Games what weren't England games

Congrats to Ecuador - they heartily deserve their place in the second round and they'll be a threat. Congrats to Fabulous Freddie as well for his goal which has kept Sweden in it - unless I'm much mistaken though, I can't see them being a huge threat in this tournament. Ecuador could still be a factor though and I'm not entirely sure I would rather England met them than Germany in the next round.

Costa Rica were woeful, and Paraguay just didn't have enough going forward - it's amazing to think there's already 3 teams out of the tournament...

EDIT: Is Wilhelmson a padawan learner? That would explain the hair...

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

World Cup Blog Goodness

If this isn't enough World Cup for you (and let's face it, you can't really have enough World Cup) - more great stuff is out there!

Finals Fantasy - More Analysis of The Football and the Television Coverage Thereof Than You Can Shake A Stick At (tm)

Soccerphile - Where my oldest friend in the world is Ranting on, from a slightly less myopicly Manchester Unitedly focused attention than he normally does :)

This is amazing - found at Finals Fantasy, it's the story of a man trying to watch world cup matches with fans from every nation.

The Guardian World Cup Blog - always good.

The BBC World Cup Blog - Sometimes good!

The two podcasts from the earlier post are both highly recommended.

The Story So Far

Ok, so, every team has played - time for a quick opinionated round up - any comments and or opinions gratefully received.

Individual Performance of the tournament so far: Tough one - lots of great players on show, but for biggest single influence on a match I might have to give it to Shaka Hislop for his heroics against Sweden. Honourable mentions for Rafael Marquez against Iran, Arjen Robben against Serbia and Montenegro and Rosicky (NOT Rosidzky!!!!) against the US.

Team Performance of the tournament so far: Again, hard not to plump for T&T, for their defying logic and bookmaking odds draw against Sweden - especially given that they played the second half with 10 men.

Best Team So Far: Argentina. Or Italy. Or the Czechs, or maybe Spain...It's too hard! Argentina are the only one of those three to have faced really stiff opposition though, so let's give it to them.

Worst Team So Far: Well, in the first half today the Saudis had this sown up, but they fought back and they fought back hard. Iran are ruled out because they looked quite good going forward. Angola did really well against the Portuguese, and Togo were the better side for 70 minutes against South Korea. The Ukraine took the heaviest beating, but they were a bit unlucky - a penalty that wasn't, the freekick deflection, getting no joy out of the linesman...All this means that the outstanding candidates for this award then are, and believe me - I get no pleasure from this: The United States of America. Yes, the fifth highest ranked team in the world surely gave us the least impressive display so far - painfully short of ideas going forward and, despite looking fairly well organised they did ship three goals. Must do better uncle Sam!

Turnaround of the Tournament So Far: The Aussies! Cor, they are quite good at sport as a nation aren't they!

Motty moment so far: The warning about crockery at the beginning on England Paraguay, which turned out to be deeply misplaced as this was the second most worth candidate for the:

USA 94 Memorial Dullsville Game of the Tournament So Far Award: France 0, Switzerland 0. Yes, just pipping England Paraguay, the Entent Banal (well done Guardian leader writer) saw some of the greatest players of our time, or indeed any time play really badly for 90 minutes. Here's hoping they improve...

The Andy Gray "What a Hit Son" Goal of the Tournament So Far: Torsten Frings, narrowly pipping Rosicky and Lahm.

The Brazil 1970 Goal That We've All Seen a Million Times Team Goal Of The Tournament So Far Award: Torres' goal today - lovely individual skill from Puyol, lovely interplay between him, Fabregas and Torres and a lovely hit.

The "The Ref's Had A Shocker" Award: The geezer what refereed our game against Paraguay - I'm fairly sure it's not narrow parochialism that leads me to pick him. He really did have a shocker.

The Jose Mourinho Memorial Managerial Sartorial Award: Otto Pfister (who of course wins the oo-er missus award too) for his stylish jeans, shirt open to the neck and map of Africa pendant combo.

There's more awards I could give, but perhaps I'll save them for the end of the second batch of games. BATCH! That's it! That's the noun I was looking for.

Germany Poland

I appear not to be writing "amusing" titles for these posts anymore. In this case that's because I'm not sure I trust myself to not make reference to the war (the BBC were fairly restrained - Lineker with one half sly reference to the irony of their being an invasion of Polish fans into Germany) and Guy Mowbray (I think that's who it was) slipping one reference in, but giving it due reverance and placing it in historical context before quoting Basil Fawlty - a well handled moment I thought, and certainly more tactful than Motty would have been).

The game was another really entertaining affair - me and my esteemed housemate were both puzzled as to why the Poles appeared to be playing for a draw, even before going down to ten men. Germany had looked vunerable defensively before the tournament and their performance against Costa Rica did nothing to change anyone's perceptions on that, but they had looked impressive enough going forward to make anyone in this tournament think twice about trying to hold on for a nil nil against them. In addition to this a draw would have left them with a maximum of 4 points available to them - which Germany would already have and which Ecuador are almost certain to exceed tomorrow, meaning they would have had to hope that Ecuador beat Germany, when they would have no particular incentive to.

Anyway, the German's reversed the day's cliche tally (Spain are perenially poor in big tournaments took a beating today) by ensuring that the notion that Germany always score crucial late goals remains as true today as it is in popular mythology.

All in all though, this game started the second round of games (I'm finding it difficult to know what noun to use by the way - second "round" implies the post-knockout round, but so does the use of "phase" and "stage" - can we just all take it as read that I mean the bit after all the teams have had a go and are all getting a second go?) with similar levels of excitement and verve as the Germans did on day one, lo these 6 days ago...This tournament has been absolutely cracking so far and I'm hoping tomorrow doesn't disappoint. Much as part of me would like to foresake nationalism in favour of poeticism and underdog victory, I just can't quite bring myself to support plucky minnows aganist England.

Saudi Arabia vs Tunisia

Well, 4 goals meant it was quite fun. But, you know... It was Saudi Arabia vs Tunisia, so it wasn't that exciting. The stat of the tournament so far was unveiled in this game - no, not Al Jaber's 45th goal in his 161st appearance...Radi Jaidi scored the first goal by a Bolton player at a world cup since Nat Lofthouse in 1954...

In hair-news, no mullets as such but the Tunisian captain, Bouzazi, had an impressive Maradona-circa-86ish perm...Not quite the talent to match, but a good effort...

It's better to be lucky than good

And if you can be both, the rest of the world might be in for a bit of a shock. A stunning first performance out of the blocks from the Spaniards. They undoubtedly had the rub of the green - their first 3 goals came from a fortunate series of deflections from a corner, a freekick which deflected off the wall and a penalty which clearly wasn't - but they also looked very impressive. Excellent and imaginative use of the ball and a drive and commitment which was especially evidenced by their fourth goal - a belter from Torres which featured some really nice build up play from Puyol and Fabregas. They look to have a good deal of strength in depth to, and, as far as one can tell with these things, they also looked to have some considerable team spirit.

Ukraine were unlucky - the goals went against them, they had a man sent off for no reason and everytime they thought they'd beaten the offside trap the linesman took a different view and I think they still stand a pretty good chance of progressing, although I'll be very interested to see how Tunisia fare against them.

It was a veritable feast of mulletdom though a couple for Spain and three or four for the Ukraine - surely 06 will be remembered as one of the great mullet collections ever assembled outside the 80s. Torres even seems to be growing his back - perhaps he remembers how disastrously his form dipped when he shaved it back at Euro 2004...

So, we've seen all the favourites now, and Spain, Italy and Argentina are winning on points so far, but there's many a slip 'twixt cup and lip and there's a long way to go yet...I'm off to make a cuppa before settling in for the tie of the round: Saudi Arabia vs Tunisia...

Yesterday's Second 2 Games (or enfin, qu'est que c'est ca?)

An actual bona fide rubbish match, at last. Togo vs South Korea wasn't great, but Switzerland vs France was absolutely diabolique. Thierry - a bit rubbish. Zidane - ok, but final ball, rubbish. Ribery - again, a bit rubbish. Unlike England, they didn't manage to sneak a win out of it. I'd say they'll come good, but I'd have said that in 2002 as well, and we all remember what happened there. They looked a bit better when Domineque brought on Louis Saha - their shape improved - but they still didn't look like scoring. Togo and South Korea will have been watching with great interest, as Switzerland looked pretty poor, although Frei had the chance of the match. It was quiet on the hair do front as well, although if memory serves, did one of the Swiss defenders sport a mullet?

The Brazil game, of which I only caught the second half wasn't that great either. The Croatian fans were amazing though, and if someone had explained the Croatian forwards that you should aim your shots either to the left or to the right of the opponents keeper we could well have been talking about an upset. Still, despite Ronaldo's apparent disinterest, and a general inability to get round the well organised Croatian defense, the Brazilians always looked as if they'd win it with some moment of magic. The rest of that group is going to be fascinating though - I don't have a clue who's going to go through in second place...

After an abortive attempt at a show just before the England game (wherein my pc shut down and wouldn't start again) today sees my second attempt. If you're around, tune in between 1300 BST and 1400 BST, for music from all the countries playing today and thoughts and discussion about all today's games, and the tournament so far...

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Tog-Oh No!

Do you see what I did there? What I did was, I took the word "Togo" and changed it a bit to add "Oh No!" at the end in order to signify disappointment or calamity. With their shockingly chaotic build up to the world cup (the coach that saw them through qualification having been sacked, and his replacement having walked out and then walked back in, in jeans I might add...) Togo would have been delighted to go in at half time 1-0 up against a very lacklustre South Korea. Soon after half time, however, it all went a bit wrong, as they got a man sent off, the blonde bemulleted Korean forward scored a with a blinding free kick and Togo somewhat fell apart.

Korea kicked on after that and, with their increasingly vocal support behind them, probably deserved to win the game, but I'd still say the race for second behind les bleus is still on.

Mullets a plenty from the South Koreans - not quite as outlandish as their fellow South East Asians and 2002 co-hosts Japan, but still an impressive range of big hair based styles on show. They will have to play better than they did today if they are going to come close to their 4th place finish last time round though.

Incidentally, this was probably the least exciting game of the tournament so far, but still not quite dull enough to be actually called dull, thanks to the Korean turn around.

Incidentally again, I bet the Ivory Coast are properly gutted that they didn't get Togo's group. African football's image has really suffered from the failure of the bigger (and basically better) sides to qualify for the tournament and the fact that the stronger African teams in this tournament are in the harder groups, and the weaker teams are in the weaker groups. If you swapped Ghana and the Ivory Coast for Togo and Angola I think there would be an excellent chance of seeing an Afriean team progress to the later stages, but as it is it's going to be tricky. Having said that, if the Ivory Coast can get a result against the Dutch (in what I think should be called the Clash of the Oranges) then we still might.

Have I mentioned "Allez Les Bleus!" yet?


Italy 2 - Ghana 0.

First off, I should say that I said "A pearler from Pirlo" out loud, along with Motty, much to the confusion of David at whose house, and on whose big screen, I watched the game. And it was yet another blinder. Ghana look, as everyone thought they would, pretty great in midfield, but the combination of the draw, some fairly shakey defending, and a lack of movement in front of the midfield means I can't see them progressing. I had predicted a draw for this game - the Italians always start slowly, don't you know...But apparently the Azzuri have forgotten that they're supposed to be rubbish in their opening game and played an absolute blinder. It will be a worry to Lippi that they looked a far less impressive team when Totti limped off (and, frankly, for the good of the tournament, let's hope it's nothing serious, because he looked really really impressive) and although they did play a lot more defensively when they went 1-0 ahead they did look as if they seriously wanted the second - whenever they broke it was with significant intent, and they could (and indeed perhaps should) have had more.

Essien went achingly close from distance, but 'big Gianluigi' (as I'm sure they call him [actually, they probably call him 'big bung taking buffon']) wasn't called into action too often. Talking of keepers, the Ghanaian keeper came from that breed of keeper that you don't really get in England - an excellent shot stopper, but VERY dodgy on crosses - he raised a chuckle from the ever-dour Lawro. Who, and I may have mentioned this before, is NOT FUNNY.

Ghana were unlucky not to have a penalty, but if the chap (I forget who it was) had not dived like he was leaping off the side of a yaught and trying to impress a young lady who was enjoying a picnic on the deck, may have got more sympathy from the ref (who was fairly poor by the way.)

Anyway, it was another great game - is it just me, or might this be the most engaging world cup in recent times?

It's my (French) mum's birthday today, so allow me to say Allez Thierry! Allez Zizou! Allez Barthez! (enfin, peut etre pas Barthez. Vous pouvez rester sur votre ligne sil vous plait est ne jouez pas comme "David James".) Althogether now "Alons enfants de la patrie, le jour de gloire et arrive!"


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Monday, June 12, 2006

Czech it out!

I'm sorry about that title. There was nothing I could do about it.

An awesome day for mullet watch - after the highs of Japan we had our first be-mulleted goal scorer - and he got two! And they were both blinding! And the second had a mullet assist to go with it!

The US looked very poor - especially going forward, although Eddie Johnson looked to have something about him. The Czechs played brilliantly, but the hamstring injury to Koller could significantly weaken their chances later in the tournament. They certainly rank right up there with the teams I'm looking forward to seeing again, and, even without Koller, they could go a long long way if they keep playing to that level.

Throw some more tofu on the barbie mate!

Blinkin' heckfire! I was all set, mentally preparing myself to start this post saying something about how the heat and the slightly lower standards of play on show today had lead to the World Cup's first game that could truly be described as dull. But no, the last ten minutes saw Cahill score twice, give away a penalty (well, ok, not actually give one away, but do his very best to) and John Aloisi smack in a cracker.

Mullets were in plentiful supply - Komono, the Japanese number 3 sporting a beautifully coiffed blonde mullet - fluffy and tall and proud. The Japanese will surely take the team award for hair stylishness...and of course politeness, another delightful moment of national stereotyping from the ITV commentators...

Sunday, June 11, 2006


Shock horror - another good game! That's a clean sweep so far. After Angola went 1-0 down in the first five minutes I'm sure I wasn't alone in thinking it could have been a bit of a wash out they really got it together. They look to have quite a bit about them, and if any team deserves the support of neutrals it's Angola, with their history, the fact that one of their star strikers was orphaned by the civil war, the fact that their goalkeeper has been without a club for a season and was training at a Portuguese second division club and the fact that one of their players lives in a house with no running water.

In their first world cup, after a disappointing African Cup of Nations they performed really well after losing that early goal and had some decent chances to equalise. Their game against Mexico will be very interesting - after today's performance I'd say they definitely have enough to worry Iran, and it will be fascinating to see if they can go one better against Mexico than they did today.

In commentary watch news: I was in the kitchen for much of the first half, so got to hear Jimmy Armfield's co-commentary, the highlight of which was the very early appearance of the "naive defending line" that one of the commentors at Finals Fantasy predicted. It arrived just after the goal, at about 5 minutes. He did stress repeatedly how impressed he was with the Angolans keeping their shape. I think on at least four or five seperate occasions. My Pleatian highlight was his refering to the Angolans as Angolola.

In mullet watch news, no mullets were seens, but the Angolan number 20 boasted an extraordinary do - singled out as Haircut of the Tournament so far by Drury and Pleat (and deservedly so.) Shaved all over except for a short outcrop of dreadlocks, almost like a second set of eyebrows above his actual eyebrows, and resembling the dangly bits you get at the bottom of very fancy curtains, this do will be hard to beat...

The temptation to title this with some kind of religion based pun is *almost* overwhelming

I was worried about this one - I was fearful that the tournament's first dull game might have been afoot (well, apart from England Paraguay, but that doesn't count cos England were playing). My doubts were shortlived however as Mexico and Iran played out another cracker. Jonathon Pearce suceeded where so few have, going 90 minutes without patronising Iran, one of the competition's less well established sides and the BBC are MILES ahead of ITV again this year with studio pundits too, although they still look weak in the tricky co-commentating position. Mark Bright is surely the most negative co-commentator in the game today, always very quick to point out mistakes. Pearce, having calmed some of his more flamboyant excesses is, for my money, the natural successor to Motty as the Beeb's lead voice, although his undoubted competence may count against him.

Mexico were much the better side, especially in the second half, but Iran showed that until an awful mix up at the back, first the keeper and then the centre half getting in on the comedy action, they had looked secure at the back, and in the first half they had looked threatening going forward. They seemed far too happy to play for a draw though, a strategy which seems very questionable considering a. how difficult it is and b. that it would mean they'd probably have to get at least a point against Portugal. Once they had let one in they seemed to go somewhat to pieces and though Zinha did really well to create and finish Mexico's third, he was left completley unmarked in the box by the Iranian defense. Mexico looked really solid at the back, rarely troubled, and Marquez had a brilliant game. The scenes of emotion from the Mexican keeper, whose father died on Thursday and who has flown to and from Mexico since then, and his teammates were very moving. This really is a beautiful game.

Mullet Watch Explodes

God bless Eastern Europe - the last bastion of mulletdom. Phill was right about Group C - Serbia and Montenegro's number 6 boasted the most out and out mullet in the tournament so far, and a few more in the side had the mini-mullet - that little teasing bit of length at the back that, to use a football metaphor, come under the heading of "I've seen them given" (as a mullet, rather than a penalty, obviously).

Mourinho must be loving the group of death - 3 out of the 4 goals scored in that group so far have been scored by Chelski players, and Robben was absolutely outstanding today - a little more unselfishness (should that be a little less selfishness?!) and he would be even better. Holland will no doubt be absolutely delighted with that 3 points - all 4 teams in this group look very solid and I'm looking forward to the next round of fixtures in that group even more than Mexico vs Iran in a hour...

p.s. More good refeering today - as Lineker has just pointed out, great to see a player getting booked for waving an imaginary card around...

Don't Cry For Me Cote D'Ivoire (I'm sorry, I don't know why I did that)

What a cracking game! Despite watching it in a kind of anti-histamine, not much sleep the night before, hayfever induced haze, I still really enjoyed it. Clearly, this was the first game between teams that you could honestly say were in with a shot of seriously progressing in the tournament, and on this evidence Argentina are going to be a force to be reckoned with. They were clinical in front of goal, creative and frighteningly solid in midfield and their back four were pretty domineering until the last 20 minutes when the Ivory Coast really seemed to get the bit between their teeth and looked really dangerous. It will be very interesting to see how good Holland are, having not actually seen them play since Euro 2004 I have no conception of their ability now, except I hear that Van Basten has them very well organised and together, and has left out some big names in favour of youngsters.

Over at Finals Fantasy there's some funny stuff about Peter Drury's unsuccessful attempts not to be patronising, and David Pleat's (or Pli-at as I am going to start calling him) attempts at foreign names...As well as the Le Tissier incident there was also his pronounciation of Ivory Coast's French coach Henri Michel as Honry Mahshell - either someone has told him that the "ee" sound in French is pronounced "ah" or he was so exhausted from his, credit where it's due, respectable crack at "Henri" that his tongue gave up and reverted to type.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Soca Warriors!

Well, crikey. That's put a shine on the day. Abba! Bjorn Borg! Online Poker Players! Your boys took a hell of a beating! (well, not beating, obviously, but still...)

What can one say about the game other than it couldn't have turned out better? As well as the instinctive supporting of the fairy tale underdogs 0-0 is of course a tremendous result for England.

A word about Caribbean stereotyping though...I'm sure that the relaxedness about time is well observed, and the flair and colour and enthusiasm and jubilance of the fans is there for all to see, but SOMEONE TELL TYLSEDSLEY TO STOP IT! The worst offence, possibly was to suggest that Leo Beenhacker, who has masterminded a remarkable turnaround in the fortunes of Trinidad and Tobagan football, would say "hey, just chill out" as his team talk to a team that had been doing anything but chilling out...

Anyway, ignorant commentating stereotyping aside (and let's face it, it was always likely to crop up) it was an immense performance from the T+T team and Swedes everywhere must be rueing the fact that most of their best chances fell to Allback and not Larrson or Ibrahimovic...

All this means that if England can succeed where Sweden failed they'll be through in two games, which will of course be good for nervous systems the length and breadth of the land...

EDIT - how remiss of me not to mention Wilhelmson's single strand mullet!!!!!

That'll Do

Well, that was a little worrying at times, but Motty's hystericism (is that a word and if not why not?!) aside, England have got 3 points and the first half was excellent. The substitution taking michael owen off *was* a complete shocker, even if Owen didn't look good, you can't leave crouch as the forward man on his own, and if you do you HAVE to make sure that the midfield can get up to support him. I thought that bringing on Hargreaves for Cole actually made the shape look better, and Lampard made a couple of quite promising runs after that. Downing played ok, and the two runs he made took pressure off the team.

The post match analysis is incredibly negative on the BBC, and it is true that it's a shame the second half was a bit of a let down, but this time 4 years ago the second half had been a let down and Sweden had scored...

Ian Wright has just asked why we don't play high tempo premiership style football throughout the game, and I think that it's a completely straightforward answer - it's incredibly hot out there...You can't underestimate the effect of that, and we've got a HUGE 3 points.

Sven has just made the point that England looked better when Cole came off and I think he's right, but Lineker doesn't seem to agree with me...Bring on the t+t!

EDIT: Oh yeah, and also, what the heck was with that referee?! Very rarely do you see such a one sided set of decisions...

I'm excited so far...

My pc isn't working properly, so I'm actually writing this 1 minute and 45 seconds into the second half, but up until that Ashley Cole slip at the very end of the half England looked in more or less complete control of the game. The most marked improvement for me compared to previous Sven lead England campaigns is the MUCH more sensible use of the longer ball - they've kept the ball well, which is hugely important, and has bee nthe thing that really let us down. Croucho's been blinding, holding the ball up really well, making some nice runs, playing a couple of nice passes and generally looking comfortable at this level. My post-Hungary and Jamaica feeling has been the Beckham is going to be one of the players of the tournament, and the first half's done nothing to change my view on that - Becks looks bang up for it, and bang in form, and that's going to make things difficult for every team we play against.

Michael Owen looks maybe a litte short of form and cutting edge so far, but early doors etc...The referee's been having a bit of a shocker, not surpising given his shockingly bad hair syle...

Motty's excitement levels are unsurprising - his pre kick off announcement that we should all be careful with our cups and glasses was reminiscent of his 2002 breakfast obsession. Post modern self referentialism or genuine concern for the crockery of the nation? You decide...

Friday, June 09, 2006


Blimey charlie, that was a blinder!

Ecuador are officially my pick to win that group now...they defended like absolute lions for the 25 minutes when Poland threw everything at them, and I really think they could do well against Germany. Poland actually looked ok, and hit the woodwork twice - I'd expect both teams to beat Costa Rica, so it looks like the games against Germany will be the deciding factor. I wouldn't write the Poles off yet, as I think their style might be difficult for Germany (although Germany really do look like they have a cutting edge upfront, it will be VERY interesting to see how they do against stiffer opposition.

In Mullet Watch news there was a definate proto-mullet from the Ecuadorian number 16 Valencia and a classic eastern european rattail mullet on the Polish number 4. There was a Nedved-esque fringe mullet on show too...

Was it just me, or did Gareth Southgate seem upset with Clive's "gentle" fun poking?

World cup podcasts

As well as my afformentioned world cup specials, and the other 1300-1400bst shows by other uknova folks during the world cup, I shall also be listening to:

The Baddiel and Skinner podcast
The Guardian Unlimited World Cup podcast

Any recommendations?

2nd Half Thoughts

Blimey! That was good : )

What a goal from frings - which one was better Laam or Frings? Lehman talked before the tournament about how much movement there was in the balls, and it looks like he was right.

Nothing about the German's second half performance defensively changed my half time thoughts, and though I'm sure I'll regret saying this, at this stage if England meet Germany in the second round I wouldn't mind too much. Michael Owen will rip those centre-halfs to shreds...

Did anyone else notice Khan chuckling at Lehman letting in a second? (apparently so, as the 'lads' in the studio have just talked about it...)

So, 1st game, 6 goals, 2 goals which could be goals of the tournament, what a start! I'm off to stretch my legs and try and get rid of these hiccoughs before the Ecuador game!

Tune into Uknova radio tomorrow at 1300 bst to hear my world cup special show...It's gonna be a cracker!

1st Half of the World Cup

Excellent stuff so far, although not much for defensive coaches to sing about!

Beautiful goal from Lahm, then Costa Rica hit back with a seriously onside goal which played the two centre halfs like the proverbials...Then the Germans hit back and now it's two-one...

Thoughts so far: Germany are going to REALLY struggle with that defense unless they improve a *lot* and quickly. Rumours of Klinsmann and Ballack falling out look to have been overblown - they're looking fairly chummy on the bench. Costa Rica look woefully inequipped to deal with the game at this level. Mark Lawrenson is woefully inequipped for comedy at this level, and Jonathan Pearce very briefly sounded extrememly Scottish when pronouncing German names...

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Catching up on Radio Shows

Here's the most recent show that David + I did together.