Down to the wire

The groups are reaching their climax now, and so far it’s not good for the Fulham-related nations.

A Dikgacoi-less South Africa managed to secure a victory against France – the first game that the hosts have won in the World Cup Finals – but goal difference meant that Mexico took second place. Despite my prejudices, Uruguay have turned out not to be the negative team that I’ve seen in previous years and were deserved winners of group A. Mexico are exciting to watch as well, but it is a shame that the home team are out so early. France’s utter failure (not quite as bad as failing to score in 2002 when they were defending champions) has several upsides though. As well as it being fun to watch France fall to pieces, it does at least mean England’s current problems aren’t as bad. And South Africa ended up above them in the table too

The other group was much closer though. Argentina were always certs to top the table, but any of the other three teams could have made it to second place. Greece certainly have the defensive play when they get it right, but I don’t think they deserved to go through on the basis of not really attacking. I had hoped Nigeria could get through, but as much as they try to score they’ve wasted many chances on their games, and the defence has not been solid. South Korea are all over the place, but they did shade it.

So now the first two set fixtures for round 2 are known. Uruguay will play South Korea, which should go to the South Americans fairly comfortably given the way both teams play. Argentina will play Mexico, and I would think that Mexico will follow the pattern of being knocked out at that stage, but that looks like it could be one hell of a game to watch.

Tomorrow it’s a big day for four of the teams I’m following. England need to win against Slovenia to get through. The USA could scrape through with a draw, but it would depend on goal difference or goals scored, so a win is the only way to guarantee a second round place. Of course, while the USA only need to keep up their good form (and deal with the way they start a game), England need to actually put a team out.

Australia are unlikely to get much against Serbia, but a draw would be a very good result for them. Ghana only need to draw against Germany, but their opponents will be out to prove that their loss to the Serbs was only a one-off. I’d love to see John Pantsil grinning his way into round 2 though.

(oh, and the other major news of the day, the ‘Emergency’ budget? Pah! It’s almost as if the Tories want the country to go back into recession, and the Lib Dems have forgotten everything they were saying six weeks ago. Idiots)

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Diego Forlan shoots puppies

Well, no, he doesn’t. He does kill off football dreams though:

An all-England Europa League final? Nope – Forlan scores twice against Liverpool to see Atletico Madrid to Hamburg.

Fulham lifting their first major trophy ever? Nope, Forlan scores twice, with the winner coming at the end of extra time in the Final.

South Africa overcoming the odds and getting into the knockout rounds of the World Cup? Nope, a long range poke and a penalty put the game beyond the hosts. Bafana Bafana would need to win against France with a fair number of goals and hope that other results go their way.

He’s just annoyingly good, that lad Forlan.

Dikgacoi managed to get booked again, so he will miss the next game. But I did learn how to pronounce his surname: “Di-Kashwe”.

Today was actually the day that the tournament came alive. With only a few teams scoring more than twice, and even Brazil managing to look pedestrian against North Korea things were looking bleak. But Chile actually played really well and were unfortunate to only beat Honduras 1-0. Then Switzerland caused the biggest upset so far when they nicked a goal against the wasteful Spanish favourites. As much as I hate to admit it, Uruguay looked in great form tonight, with less of that negative play that they are renowned for.

Officially the best World Cup mascot ever!

The first World Cup that I can remember anything about was Spain ’82, when I was eight years old. That blistering goal against France in the first game, Keegan’s return from injury only to fluff the best chance against Spain, a German called Schumacher putting out the French opposition with extreme prejudice, Italy being actually good at football and winning…

But the most memorable thing for me about those games was the mascot, Naranjito, and the book that came out featuring him: World Cup Final in danger. God bless that heroic little orange!

Parping

It started with the World Cup, and has become incessant and annoying as time goes by. I thought that after the opening match that the protagonists would get it out of their systems and it would die down, but if anything it’s growing worse and worse with each game it seems to. People simply don’t seem to be able to stop themselves from making this awful noise and reducing the fun for everyone else. It’s time a stop was put to it!

I’m not talking about the vuvuzelas, I’m talking about the moaning about the vuvuzelas. Yes, it’s a buzzing sound all the way through the games. Yes, it’s not what we are used to when watching football. And yes, it may be dulling the atmosphere a bit. But on the other hand it is how South Africans watch their games, it is certainly unique to this World Cup, and after a short while you get used to it.

I’ve seen claims that it drowns out other crowd noises. Not for me it doesn’t. I could hear the England fans’ band, I’ve heard cheers and jeers in other games, and on the radio you get used to it as a background, similar to the hiss of a bad reception. In fact, I seem to recall most of Mexico ’86 tv coverage being accompanied by buzzing due to poor transmission, and the picture quality then was awful when you see the old footage.

Like Anton of Enemies of Reason, I also noticed that there are a lot of people angrily calling for a ban on vuvuzelas from England. The same place where many people were angrily denouncing a (largely fictitious) ban on England flags or shirts on the basis that people in their own country should not be stopped from supporting football as they wish, even if it may offend others (not that I think the flag or the shirts do, it’s the behaviour that sometimes comes along with it that’s offensive). Well, just as it would be wrong for a blanket ban on English people flying their flags or wearing their shirts, I think it’s equally arrogant to call for a ban on South Africans in South Africa doing what they do for football.

Not a complete disaster

I thought I was doing well on my predictions. France and Uruguay ended up goalless and a Uruguayan saw red, Greece lost to South Korea… and then Argentina were annoyingly good against Nigeria. From what I saw Etuhu and his teammates did pretty well, but unfortunately Argentina somehow managed to keep them at bay. Dickson did put a ball in that could well have resulted in a goal though.

Of course the real disappointment was England failing to beat the Americans. There were plenty of chances, and certainly when Lennon and Johnson got behind the defence the US looked vulnerable, but the luck just wasn’t there at times. Of course at the other end Rob Green had no when he fumbled Dempsey’s speculative shot into the goal. So I got one thing right, dammit.

Still, Gerrard’s goal was classy, and England did look very good going forward. The midfield did track back when needed, and for most of the game the possession play was pretty solid. I don’t think we need to worry too much about the other two in the group on that basis, and as long as Green maintains his confidence I reckon England can too.

Anyway, at the risk of getting these horribly wrong..

Sunday 13 June

Algeria 1-1 Slovenia (a tight game with rubbish defending exposed, please)
Germany 1-0 Australia (Germany very lucky to nick one from a wicked rebound after Schwarzer locks them out for most of the game)
Serbia 2-3 Ghana (a proper knockabout end-to-end game at last?)

Picking a winner

This week two things started properly. One was the Labour Leadership elections, with five candidate qualifying for the final round. Alas, John McDonnell didn’t make it, but at least people stopped nominating Millibands for the other two to get in. I’ve yet to decide who to support. I would put Diane Abbott in as my no1, but my girlfriend has told me I’m not allowed to (so much for sistahood, eh?). All I know is that Balls is no5 in my book and nothing’s likely to change that unless it turns out that Andy Burnham is even worse.

But for now we have the really important competition down in South Africa. This time I will be backing seven teams in the World Cup:

England
USA (Clint Dempsey & Carlos Bocanegra)
South Africa (Kagisho Dikgacoi)
Nigeria (Dickson Etuhu)
Ghana (John Paintsil)
Australia (Mark Schwarzer)
Japan (Junichi Inamoto)

Obviously England are the main team I’ll be supporting. Not with silly flags or by wearing the shirt, let alone with face paint, but in the time-honoured tradition of watching them on the telly with beers in hand. But all of the others have current or past Fulham players in their squads, so I’d want to see them progress. Besides, Ghana and Australia doing well means Germany doing badly, Nigeria are up against Argentina and South Africa are in a group with France so that’s the main rivals covered. None of those teams are ones that I wouldn’t want to see do well anyway, they are all reasonable footballing sides, with a fair amount of underdog status.

If Fulham had a Uruguayan or Italian international I’d have been mightily torn between backing a Whites player and my loathing of negative sides that cheat their way through. When England play the USA tomorrow I certainly want England to win, if for nothing else other than to shut the Yanks up about 1950. But as long as England look good to get through the group, I will want the Americans to do well against Slovenia and Algeria before shockingly putting the Germans out in Round 2.

I’ll be keeping an eye on the games where Whites players feature. I was at work for the opening game of the tournament, which saw Dikgacoi in action against Mexico, so I am reliant on the highlights and web-reports. 1-1 is a good result for the hosts, and while they were lucky not to concede in the first half they could have nicked the game at the end. The Mexicans are usually a very good side, and are often underestimated at the World Cup. They’ve have made it to the knockout rounds in the last four tournaments, and each time fallen at the first hurdle.

Our lad Kagisho made his mark on the game: booked midway through the first half for fouling the rampant Giovani, failing to convert a headed corner at the end of the first half, and then being involved in the build up play for the South Africa goal in the second half.

I’ll be making with more frequent posts (‘onest!) on how my favoured seven teams and the Fulham contingent are getting on. In the meantime, here’s how I hope the next few games go:

Tonight
Uruguay 0-0 France (with several players sent off and loads of bookings. Any Uruguayan who commits a foul to be injured as a result)

Tomorrow
S Korea 1-0 Greece (The Greeks beaten when their offside trap fails)
Nigeria 2-0 Argentina (Maradona turns purple as Etuhu gets an assist)
England 3-1 USA (Rooney and Defoe goals win the game after Dempsey opens the scoring)

Hodgson for God!

I’m still recovering from last Thursday night’s win over Hamburg. The whole thing is unbelievable. The comeback from a goal down was more than just dramatic. That the scorers were two of the unsung heroes of the squad made it seem more Fulhamish to me – Gera has been working solidly with Zamora this season, and Davies is one of the longest serving players who survived the arrival and departure of Lawrie Sanchez and fits in well with Hodgson’s system.

The noise in the ground was brilliant – the supporters were behind the team and in good voice (I’m still a bit hoarse). The memory of the “Stand up if you still believe” chant starting near the green pole and spreading out along the Hammy End brings a chill to my spine.

The odd thing is, Fulham could qualify for next year’s Europa Cup even if they don’t win next week – If England holds it’s place in the top three of the UAFA Fair Play league, Fulham is the top placed club in the English Fair Play table that hasn’t already got a place in the Champions League or the Europa Cup already. If we beat Athletico Madrid, then we will be given a place in the Group Stage of the Europa Cup and Burnley could end up getting the Fair Play place.

All of which is a testament to the team and the manager. Roy Hodgson hasn’t just gotten the team playing well enough to push for a top-half place in the Premiership, they’ve put together two cup runs and have been doing it through positive football and not dirty play.