Sunday, 11 July 2010

Germany v Uruguay

Germany 3 Mueller 18, Jansen 56, Khedira 82
Uruguay 2 Cavani 28, Forlan 51

For some reason these playoff games are always right little crackers, and this one was no exception. If Holland had lost their semifinal, you have to wonder whether they'd have made a better show of things here than they did in the final.

Mueller got us under way in the eighteenth minute, the first to get to a Schweinsteiger shot after Muslera spilled it. If you're going to spill it, you spill it sideways. He's a bit rubbish, is Muslera.

The next fatal error was Schweinsteiger's. He got caught in midfield by Perez, and the ball came through to Cavani via the much, and highly justly, maligned Suarez. His shot beat Butt, as it were, and Uruguay were level.

Just after the break they went ahead through Forlan. His volley was hit hard, and so accurately it had time to bounce on the way to the goal, and still gave the keeper no chance. For a time, it almost seemed as if they might hang on. It would have been an unlikely result though, and again it was the keeper that threw it away.

Boateng put in a high cross which Muslera jumped for. He got there first and had the chance to punch clear, but just entirely missed the ball, not unlike Cesar for Brazil against Holland, and Jansen was able to head into an empty net. If he'd stayed on his line he'd still have been criticised for not coming for it, but at least he'd have had a chance to make the save. As things stood the ball was in the net before he hit the ground.

It was still two all, and extra time would have been fine with all of us, but Khedira took that away, connecting meaningfully with an Ozil corner after the entire Uruguay defence had tried to do the same, without success. Forlan hit the bar with a free kick in the last minute of extra time, which would have given him the Golden Boot and us extra time, but it bounced over rather than in. Three two then.

The Golden Boot, by the way, is the award for the player who scores the most goals in the tournament. Gary Lineker won it once, you know. This year, Mueller, Forlan, Villa of Spain and Sjneider of Holland all tied, with 5 goals each. Mueller got the title for having an assist as well, while Villa was second, Sjneider third and Forlan fourth on the number of minutes they played.

Forlan did get the Golden Ball, for the best player of the tournament. Dunno 'bout that.

So Germany go home third, with four wins and two losses. They scored sixteen goals, twice as many as the winners and more than anyone else, and conceded just five. I think they'd have taken it at the beginning. Uruguay have had their best tournament since 1970, yet also somehow their worst.

Next, the final.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Spain v Germany

Spain 1 Puyol 73
Germany 0

No time for a proper report on this one, I'm afraid, as I've been back at work, and doing overtime.

Just a quick summary then. The first half was a bit dull, with Spain dominating but not breaking through. Germany seemed to be playing on the defensive, a tactic which doesn't seem to be working against Spain since Switzerland blagged a win with it in the first game. To counter, the Spanish just did their usual thing of wearing down the opposition. It took 63 minutes against Portugal, 82 against Paraguay and 73 here. Let's hope the Dutch come up with something new.

Germany's defeat means a new name on the trophy, as neither Holland nor Spain have won before. One of them will become the eighth winner, following Uruguay, Italy, Germany, Brazil, England, Argentina and France.

If Spain win, it will be Holland's first defeat of the tournament. All teams in the World Cup will have been beaten at least once, with one exception. Guess who?

New Zealand of course. They finished third in Group F, so never made it into the knockout phase, but did so with three draws, against Slovakia, Italy and Paraguay. You'd have to reckon that as the achievement of the tournament.

I'm rooting for Holland, though. You may be recall me tipping them to go far earlier on. I've never had someone I tipped actually win before, and the lure of it is irresistible.

Next, the third place play off between Germany and Uruguay.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Holland v Uruguay

Holland 3 Van Bronckhorst 18, Sjneider 70, Robben 73
Uruguay 2 Forlan 41, Pereira 90 + 2

For many people, the most memorable thing about Uruguay until the Ghana game was the Homer Simpson scene. You remember, the one where he spins a globe and says Hey, look, there's a country called U R Gay!

The Homer erotic Uruguay may now have been superseded in the popular imagination by the Uruguay of cheating Suarez, but they were still in a semifinal of the World Cup. The last time England did that was twenty years ago. And at the end they were one decent strike away from taking Holland to extra time.

The first half was unremarkable except for the goals, both of which came out of the blue. For Holland's opener, Van Bronckhorst hit a shot from 40 yards for no good reason. I just had time to think oh you twat for wasting the opportunity before it sailed past the keeper and into the back of the net. Oh well, shows what I know.

Forlan clearly felt he wanted to leave us with something to remember him by as well. He got onto a loose pass just before the break, feinted right, went left, got a yard or two of space and hit it. Stekelenberg got a hand on it, and really ought to have kept it out, but didn't. One one at half time.

For the first twenty minutes of the second half, the favourites looked vulnerable. They couldn't string passes together, their first touches let them down, the obvious ball eluded them. At times they seemed to playing a game of their own invention called Ever Decreasing Circles, in which each player spins through 180 degrees then plays a shorter ball than the one before, ignoring both the blue shirts swarming into his path and the orange ones begging for the ball out by the touchline.

Suddenly, like great teams do, they got it together. Their first proper chance in an age fell to Van Der Vaart, after the hitherto anonymous Van Persie had collected a long ball on the edge of the box and put him in. Muslera saved his shot well, but it ran kindly for Robben. With everyone holding their breath Robben shot wildly over, but it felt like a momentum shift was underway.

Five minutes later they scored, perhaps a little controversially. Sjneider's shot deflected slightly off the leg of Maxi Pereira, and went under Van Persie's legs and in. He was (just) offside when the shot was taken, and was clearly interfering with play even though he never actually touched it, so it shouldn't really have been allowed. No-one who saw the end of the Ghana game cared about that though.

And there was nothing controversial about the third. It was straightforward enough, but brilliantly executed. A Kuyt cross came to Robben in the box, just slightly behind him, and he leaned back just enough to get his head into the right position to angle the ball in off the far post. If the cross had come to him more easily, the defender could have got in a challenge, but as things were it was unplayable.

The game seemed dead from that point, with twenty minutes left. Tabarez took Alvaro Pereira off, replacing him with Abreu. Then he swapped Forlan for Fernandez, a strange decision which seemed like the height of folly when they got a free kick in injury time, in a position which Forlan would normally have shot from.

But Gargano didn't strike for goal. He played a surprise short ball to Maxi Pereira, who shot under the blocking defenders' legs, past the keeper and in. Suddenly, for the last two minutes, it was game on.

Uruguay knocked a couple of crosses in, and one of them nearly broke to Arevalo, but as things turned out there was nothing doing. Van Bommel was booked for dissent, but at this stage that means nothing. Uruguay slink off home, there to work up a head steam over the Sjneider goal which will for ever annoy 2.5 million people while briefly amusing five billion, and Holland are in the final.

I'll type that again. Holland. Are. In. The. Final. Told you.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Quarter finals

Uruguay 1 - 1 Ghana aet (Uruguay 4 - 2 penalties)
Holland 2 - 1 Brazil
Germany 4 - 0 Argentina
Spain 1 - 0 Paraguay

Plans for coherent blogging of the quarter finals were rather scuppered on Friday night when my neighbour Sean knocked on my door and asked me if I fancied a beer at about 5:30. I did fancy a beer, then I fancied another one, then I realised the landlord was firing up the barbecue and they'd be showing the football when it came on in a couple of hours, and my evening plan seemed to emerge quite naturally from the circumstances.

Thus the late appearance of this post, you see. Saturday wasn't the most energised of days. And Sunday was my birthday. So I'm covering the quarter finals in this merged and truncated format.

It may have been the booze, but Uruguay v Ghana was one of the best games of the tournament. Two great goals, extra time and some spectacular cheating. What more could you possibly want?

Ghana got the first, on the stroke of halftime. Sulley Muntari got the ball about forty yards out, and just hit it. Most of the time when someone at this World Cup has done that with the Jabulani ball it's gone sailing well over the bar or halfway to the corner flag, Jabulani being the Xhosa word for flies through the air like Hansie Cronje's plane didn't. Muntari, though, managed to put all those failed efforts in context with one sweet shot, curling away from the unsighted Muslera and in.

Muntari having subverted the World Cup form for the long range shot, Forlan decided to do the same for the free kick. His effort cleared the wall and crashed in, wrong footing Kingson on the way. He'd made the classic keeper's error of moving just before the kick was taken, an understandable urge but one which so often leads to a goal when the attacker happens to choose the opposite side to the one the keeper expects.

As I said, it may have been the booze, but it was a great game. Everyone watching was perfectly happy when full time came, because it guaranteed us another half hour of drinking and watching. I can't give you a lot of detail, I'm afraid. I didn't take my notebook to the pub, and if I had it would mainly have said I fucking love football, it's the best game and people who don't like it are just cunts, rather than anything more coolly analytical, so you'll have to settle for a rather broader brushstroke than I normally use.

In fact I spent most of extra time talking to the woman stood next to me at the bar. Her boy has been signed up as an apprentice for Rovers, and she was worried that he might be corrupted by the superstar life style. I reassured her, and I can reassure you, that there's absolutely no question of the glamour of Bristol Rovers corrupting anyone. If there was a version of Big Brother shown on Dave, at three in the morning every other Wednesday, the people choosing the housemates would pose a greater threat to their young charges' sense of proportion. Parents up and down the land are despearate to reassure agents and talent scouts that rumours of their boy spending time as a Rovers apprentice are entirely unfounded.

No, I wasn't trying to chat her up. She had a husband in tow. I have to say, though, it's a little dispiriting to realise that someone can have a son old enough to be an apprentice and still be unattainably young from my point of view.

The killer moment in the game came right at the end of extra time. From a Ghana corner, Adiyiah's shot was blocked by Suarez on the line. It came back to him, he headed it where it came from, and Suarez blocked it again. This time, though, he used his arm. He was sent off, and Gyan took the penalty. If he'd scored from the penalty, there wouldn't have been penalties. Because his penalty hit the bar and went over, there had to be penalties. Clear?

He took the first Ghana penalty himself. He scored. Like Yakubu for Nigeria, you couldn't but admire his guts. Also like Yakubu for Nigeria, it didn't change a goddam thing. Mensah and Adiyiah missed, Uruguay won the shootout 4-2, and on they go.

As you may imagine, there's been no little discussion of this. Suarez, who misses the semifinal, didn't entirely helped matters by cheering Gyan's penalty miss as he walked off the pitch, and when he said his hand was now the new hand of God he achieved the remarkable feat of making himself unwelcome in Africa, England and Diego Maradonna's house all at the same time.

Even in those parts of the world Suarez could safely visit, there is a general sense that an injustice was done, and that a little humility on the part of Uruguay wouldn't go amiss. Ghana would have been the first African country to reach a World Cup semifinal had Suarez not deliberately handled the ball on the line. It has been said that keeping the ball out by any means is instinctive for a footballer, which is fair enough, but you really ought to eat some humble pie afterwards.

There also seems to be a strong argument for introducing a penalty goal, like the penalty try in rugby. Under this rule, if a player commits a blatant penalty offence in such a way that a definite goal is prevented, by handball, pushing an attacker over as he goes to tap a ball over the line, or whatever, then a goal should be given.

Uruguay now have to play the semifinal without Suarez, but apparently if they should win that game Suarez would be available for the final again. He could easily end up scoring the most unpopular World Cup final winning goal ever.

They play Holland, who beat Brazil in a thrilling game. A few days ago I said this

We're seeing a new, efficient Holland, without the flamboyancy, haircuts or public spats of yesteryear. I like what I'm seeing. Mind you, they've got Brazil next.

They haven't got Brazil next any more. They've got a semifinal against a Uruguay side who have lost their best striker.

It was Brazil's own fault, they threw it away quite casually. They started so well, with Robinho scoring twice in two minutes. The first one was disallowed for offside, but the second one was fine.

It was a freak goal that changed things. Sjneider's lofted cross came quite naturally through to Cesar in goal. He was slightly impeded by Melo, but not enough to justify what happened. He just completely missed the direction of the ball, and punched the empty air just to the left of its flight path instead. It hit the top of Melo's head and went in. Initially it was given as a Melo own goal, but after the game FIFA awarded it to Sjneider instead. This seems only fair, as the ball would have gone in anyway if it Melo's head hadn't been there, the crucial factor in the attribution of goals.

It seemed to throw Brazil. They've always been equal parts butterfly and bee, but sometimes they've got a bit of a glass jaw to go with it. This was one of those days. Sjneider's headed winner came from a perfectly straightforward corner from Robben, flicked on by Kuyt and knocked in without a serious challenge. Soon after Melo was sent off for stamping on Robben (I've always said watching Rooney is just like watching Brazil), and Brazil ended their World Cup on something of a whimper.

I don't think any of us expected that to happen, and I don't think any of us expected Germany to steamroller Argentina like they steamrollered Australia and England. I mean, Cahill and Terry are one thing, but this was the team of Messi and Maradonna. Their uncharacteristic loss to Serbia aside, no-one has looked vaguely like stopping them.

Klose, meanwhile, has scored 14 World Cup goals in his career. This puts him equal on Gert Muller, and one behind Brazilian Ronaldo in the all time list. He's 32, so this is probably his last chance to get to the top. He's also in the running for the Golden Boot, the highest number of goals in this tournament. He won this in 2006 with five, and no-one has ever won it two tournaments in a row.

They got started quickly in this one. Mueller got his head on a Schweinsteiger free kick from the left and deflected the ball ever so slightly. I think Romero in goal was prepared to either hurl himself across the goal after a proper header or stay right where he was if Mueller missed it. The slight deflection caught him out. It hit his right leg and bounced in, and Germany were one nil up before I'd so much as had a sip of my tea.

Like England, Argentina had plenty of pressure, but it didn't matter this time either. Germany scored a second when Mueller, lying on the floor, was able to flip a ball through to Podolski. He found Klose unmarked in front of an empty net, and Klose, no doubt remembering the Yakubu miss against South Korea, had the calmness to control it first before tapping in.

Schweinsteiger had his moment next, running right through a bedraggled and shell shocked Argentine defence to knock it back for Friedrich, who made no mistake. Klose got a fourth just before the end, and that was that.

Ein, zwei, drei, the Germans go marching on, said Gary Lineker, remaining mysteriously unsacked. Why xenophobia against Germans gets a free pass at the BBC I don't know, but it does. Dutch footballing legend Clarence Seedorf did his level best to show a more cultured and urbane face to the world than the company he found himself in, although he did accidentally undermine his dignified avoidance of national stereotypes by saying how hard it was to break through the German wall. Use a pickaxe is my advice, Clarence.

Lineker was right about one thing, they do go marching on. Although given the joyfulness and panache of their play, we might more accurately characterise their style of movement as a sashay.

The fourth quarter final, Spain v Paraguay, was a tale of posts and penalties. The first half was pretty dull, but there was more than enough material in five minutes of the second half to fill a post. Follow the details, the details are important. I'm afraid the referee isn't about to cover himself in glory.

It started on 59 minutes. Paraguay had a corner, Pique pulled on Cardozo's arm like a child demanding ice cream as the ball swung into the box, and a penalty was given. Pique got a yellow card, and Cardozo took the penalty. It was a poor penalty, Casillas saved it and held on to it, and the game carried on. Thus far, no problem.

A minute later at the other end, Villa got to a ball into the Paraguayan penalty area just before Alcaraz, who pushed him in the back. It was a definite penalty, which was given, but Alcaraz only got a yellow. This was hard to understand, as it was clearly a goal-scoring opportunity for Villa, so if it was a foul it should have been a straight red.

No matter, at least Spain have a penalty. Up steps Alonso, and he tucks it away calmly enough. Except that the referee decides it has to be taken again, for encroachment. This time Villar saves, and the rebound comes out to Fabregas. He tries to go round Villar, who blatantly trips him. No penalty given. The ball comes to Ramos, but his shot is cleared off the line by Da Silva.

All clear? Not quite. Replays show that there was encroachment on all three penalties, and that more Spanish players encroached the Paraguayan penalty miss, saved by Casillas, than encroached Alsonso's first, successful kick.

So the referee has made three game changing mistakes in five minutes. First he missed the encroachment on the first penalty (or mistakenly gave it for the second, depending on the level of tolerance you choose to apply to encroachment). Then he gave Alcaraz a yellow rather than a red. Then he missed the Fabregas trip. And we laughed at Graham Poll four years ago.

After the penalties, the posts. There were three of those as well. In the 82nd minute, Iniesta broke through to the edge of the Paraguayan box, and laid the ball off to Pedro. Pedro's shot hits the left hand post, and comes back to Villa. He controls, steadies himself (it's amazing how the top players know to the nearest tenth of a second exactly how long they have to do this) and shoots. The ball hits the right hand post, runs along the goal line behind Da Silva, hits the left hand post and rolls in.

Poor Da Silva. He'd kept out Ramos after the penalty save, and his position on the goal line was ideal, but the ball pinged one side of him, behind him, and in on the other side. His face as it did this was a comedy classic from the silent era - he looks right, he looks left, he looks bemused, he looks disconsolate. It would have won Buster Keaton an Oscar.

They were unlucky, Paraguay. They had the ball in the net in the first half, but Valdez's goal was disallowed because Cardozo was offside. He'd risen for the cross, hadn't touched it but had got near enough to it to be interfering with play. If he'd left it, the goal would have stood.

They nearly scored again right at the end. Barrios, on for Caceres, had a shot which the normally reliable Casillas spilled. Santa Cruz beat him to the ball as it rolled across the box, but Casillas made himself big and Cruz's shot pinged off him and away. On such margins are these things resolved. Spain go on, Paraguay go home.

So that's the semi final line up.

Holland v
Uruguay and
Germany v

which spells out a message, from the World Cup to all of us. HUGS, says the World Cup, as it prepares to take its leave. Hugs to you too, World Cup. If I could enter a stasis chamber until your blessed return, I surely would.

The next one is in Brazil, in 2014. South American teams will hope to use it to improve on their performance this time, which rather flattered to deceive. From a position of complete dominance, no South American country has earned an honest semifinal place. Only Uruguay survive, courtesy of Suarez and Gyan's penalty miss.

And there's a real chance of a new name on the trophy. Germany have won before, obviously, but Spain and Holland haven't. If they win they get a final against each other, with a new winner guaranteed. Uruguay, surprisingly, are three time winners, in 1934, 1938 and 1950. This makes them the only team with more years of hurt than England, so if they win England go home crowned champions of something, after all.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Spain v Portugal

Spain 1 Villa 63
Portugal 0

I took a day off before I wrote this one. I've been writing about football fairly much all the time I haven't been watching it, and it suddenly dawned on me it was nineteen days since I'd been further than the Tesco round the corner.

So I got on my bike and went down to the city. I was a bit nervous at first, but it all seemed to be where I'd left it. You've even added a couple of new bits. Shops, taxis, swing bridges, emergency services, you've kept them going right through the World Cup. Well done.

It was lovely to sit down by the harbour with a coffee and a burger and do the crossword in the paper while people chugged, sailed and rowed all around me. I didn't even mind the lack of football. It turns out that four to six hours a day for nineteen days in a row is actually enough. Football: a bit like cocaine, but much more like custard.

Unfortunately, the down side of a day off is that when you do finally get round to writing up a game report, your notes can seem a little thin. 12 short corner, Torres shoots just over, 15 wide right, unlucky, it says. I really don't recall, so I'm going to have to take my word for it. So, Torres was unlucky after twelve minutes when his shot from the right hand edge of the box went just over after Spain caught Portugal napping with a short corner, I'm going to write. And now I have.

There are some moments I remember with startling clarity. Ronaldo pushed by Piquet, no foul, I enjoyed that. Shortly followed by my favourite moment of the World Cup so far, Ronaldo quite clearly fouled, blatantly pushed over, nothing given ha ha twat. Truly these are great days we're living through.

Not for Ronaldo, though, or for Portugal. Tuesday in particular wasn't their day at all. They'd clearly been told to go out there and defend, and they kept two lines of four most of the time with Wonder Boy on his own up front. It worked for them for an hour, which is how long the tactic usually works for, but in the end the constant pressure wears you down and you crack.

It started with a diving header for Llorente, who'd come on for the unfit Torres. The defence seemed to just let him go, and if he'd managed to put it either side of the keeper it would have been in.

A minute later, and Villa's shot from the edge of the box just curled wide. They'd defended well, the Portugese, the keeper was doing everything asked of him, they'd even had a few chances themselves, but you could feel the momentum build.

The goal came two minutes later. The ball came through to Xavi in the box, his little back heel flick was so subtle you had to check the replay to be sure he'd made contact, but it just gave it the slight vector and momentum shift to land it perfectly in Villa's path. Eduardo saved the first shot, but the rebound came back to Villa, who made no mistake with his second.

It looked fractionally offside to me, but you'd be hard pressed to work up any sense of outrage for a poor and unambitious Portugal side, especially one with Ronaldo in it. At the end they may have been the victims of another injustice, when Costa was sent off for elbowing Capdevila. Replays were inconclusive, an odd thing to say about an incident where one player elbows another in the face, but it was genuinely hard to tell if there was contact or not from what we saw.

The whistle blew soon after, and that was that. So, Spain go marching on, and Portugal go home. Bye Ronaldo. Bye bye. Twat.

Paraguay v Japan

Paraguay 0 - 0 Japan (after extra time)
Paraguay win 5-3 on penalties

Forgot to hit Publish Post, sorry [Ed]

There was a game before the penalties, but I won't detain you with it. Suffice it to say that the first half, the last half hour and the second half of extra time were rubbish. I can't testify to minutes 45 to 60, they may have been brilliant, but after the gripping first half I found it impossible to tear myself away from Countdown. I turned back in the end, it was that or Deal or No Deal, but judging by the general tone of the commentators on my return the entertainment value of the lost fifteen minutes seems to have been intermittent at best.

The first half of extra time was fractionally better, but not sufficiently to induce me to describe it, so we'll skip straight to the penalty shootout. Komano hit the bar with Japan's third, Paraguay scored all five, and that was that. That's something of a cursory description as well, isn't it? Oh well, sometimes you lay the golden egg and sometimes it's just a wet fart.

Paraguay's success means four South American teams make the final eight. Given that we started with five out of 32, and Chile were knocked out by Brazil, I'm sure you can deduce that there are still as many South American sides left as mathematics would allow.

Japan's exit ends the direct interest of the continent of Asia in this tournament. To go with the four South American teams there are three European ones and Ghana for the host continent. As it seems to be viewed now. Now England have gone am I supposed to cheer for the European countries? Actually, I'm cheering for the countries who have never won it before. It was so nice when France won in 1998, it would be nice to have it happen again. Otherwise, I'd like Argentina to win so I can clean up in the office sweepstake.

Next, the big one. Spain against Portugal, to complete the quarter final line up. Tomorrow and Thursday we get two days without football, and judging by this game it's about time.

I know what you're all wondering - did I get the conundrum? How could you doubt me? Now SKEDADDLE.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Brazil v Chile

Brazil 3 Juan 34, Fabiano 38, Robinho 59
Chile 0

Let's not beat around the bush. We all knew that was going to happen. Chile will have groaned when they saw the group draw, and realised how long the odds were on getting anyone other than Brazil in this game. They might have hoped for something different when Switzerland beat Spain, but they never scored enough goals to be top of the group, so by the time they played Spain themselves they must have seen the writing on the wall. And let's not pretend we felt any different when we realised we were going to have to play Germany.

It wasn't the game of the tournament, although it was the best game so far that's had Brazil in it. I still haven't forgiven them for the Portugal game, to be honest. To be fair, they seemed to spend less time clutching their gaping wounds and screaming for a medic than they have in previous appearances.

And they played well enough to have the first six chances that made it into my notebook, including three goals. They did all their little tricks, but it was a defender's header from a corner that put them one up. Juan took a leaf out of the Louis Carey school of defensive attacking, planting himself in the middle of the box, rising high and powering it in. Come on, I've been really good, surely I'm allowed one.

The second was just the kind of thing we're desperate to be able to say we've come to expect. Robinho free down the left on the break, the defender beaten, the cross to Kaka, the precision pass between two covering defenders to Fabiano, the unstoppable shot. You know, that kind of thing. The stuff they owe us somehow.

The third was the same kind of thing again. The Ramirez run into the heart of the Chilean defence, the defensive slip which allowed the pass across to Robinho, the shot that curves round the keeper and back in just in time. It looks so easy sometimes, football.

Chile were disappointing in this one. There was one particular moment that summed up their evening. Three nil down with twenty minutes left, they got a break, they dashed forward en masse, as they really needed to, but just couldn't seem to get the ball moving as fast as they were. Brazil took it back, and used the opportunity to show how breaks should be done. Five seconds after they'd picked it up on the edge of their own half Robinho was shooting from wide right. Bravo saved well to keep the score to three, but it was a symbolic moment.

They haven't been terrible, Chile, but they've never quite delivered. They laboured rather against a semi-pro Honduran team and an unambitious Swiss one, got one nil wins over both and threw their tournament away in the last fifteen minutes of the first half against Spain. Recovering later in that game to play the best football we've seen from them, they then settled for the one goal deficit that gave them the odds over Switzerland, when cold logic must have told them another goal would have made all the difference to their hopes. Brazil did the necessary, and home they go.

Brazil get a quarter final against Holland, with a semifinal against Uruguay or Ghana to follow. Tomorrow, Paraguay against Japan and, more tellingly, Spain against Portugal.

Holland v Slovakia

Holland 2 Robben 18, Sjneider 84
Slovakia 1 Vittek (pen) 90 + 4

The B list countries are all going home now. They shine, they sparkle, they put out Italy or France, in England's case they don't do any of those things, but as we head towards the quarter finals the big fish are taking over.

It's like a feeding frenzy, taken to its logical conclusion. During qualifying there are plenty of fish in the sea, and everyone contents themselves with the small fry. By the tournament itself the Balkan bait ball is mostly gone, and the smaller hunters become the hunted. Once they get out of the group stage it's bye bye to halibut, herring, and English carp, and before we know it the real sharks are on their own, thrashing around and gorging on each other until one monstrous hammerhead emerges triumphant from the debris of scale and crunched bones.

You get the idea. Not that Holland will be describing themselves as one of the really big fish. After all, it's not like they've ever won it, or anything.

The golden generation (a phrase so cheapened by its application to the current England squad that it's hard to use it without spitting) took them to two finals, in 1974 and 1978, but they lost to Germany, then Argentina. Since then we've had the traditional flashes of greatness (one thinks immediately of the Bergkamp goal against Argentina in 1998), but they always seem to burn brightly, then burn out.

This year, they're taking a different tack. No more 6-1 demolition jobs, like the one they inflicted on Yugoslavia in Euro 2000. They were hosting the tournament, and they preened and strutted to a semifinal defeat by Italy that seemed impossible.

This time the preening and the strutting have been left to lesser teams. They've beaten Denmark, Japan, Cameroon and now Slovakia, scored seven goals to two conceded, yet they seem to have ghosted through the tournament.

We're seeing a new, efficient Holland, without the flamboyancy, haircuts or public spats of yesteryear. I like what I'm seeing. Mind you, they've got Brazil next.

The big news for them is that Arjen Robben is back. He played in the Champions League final for Bayern, but hurt himself in a friendly against Hungary a week before the tournament began. They've done fine without him, but they were glad of his goal today. The way he cut inside from the right and put the ball precisely through the minute gap between converging defenders' legs will have brought back happy memories from the days before gold was devalued. Three Lions? Sealions more like. Yes I'm still angry. It's still only the day after the Grim Day, you know. Not Better Yet Day, we call it, and cursed be those who fail to understand.

Yes, let's get back to Holland. The Slovakian goalkeeper Mucha gave them the second, running out to get a ball he was never going to reach. Kuyt headed over him and passed it back to Sjneider, who shot into an empty net. It was a shame for Mucha, who'd had a good game and a good tournament, but that's feeding frenzies for you, no respecters of effort.

The laws of sporting selection relented long enough to allow Slovakia a nice little bonus at the end, as they won a penalty with the last move of the match. Vittek scored, to move to four goals for the tournament. The final whistle blew while they were celebrating. It was how they'd have wanted to go.

The four days since the Italy game were a nice little interlude for them, before normal service was resumed. They didn't entertain against Paraguay or New Zealand, but they've made up for it since. Holland have Brazil, and the winner just has to beat Uruguay or Ghana to get to the final, so it would be a reckless punter who put their money anywhere else, if you ask me.

Argentina v Mexico

Argentina 3 Tevez 25 52, Higuain 33
Mexico 1 Hernandez 71

They could have been ahead early, the Mexicans, and then I'd be writing a different story. Salcedo's shot out of nowhere crashed against the bar after eight minutes, and then a minute later Dos Santos hit one just wide. The replay showed it was actually going just inside the post when it left his boot, but then bent agonisingly away. Thrilling stuff, anyway. Why can't we play like this? was the general feeling across the Enger-land.

So a good start by Mexico, and a respectable performance throughout. Which doesn't help the people of Mexico now, except that their Grim Day has now become a Day of Rage, directed at FIFA and the officials after the first Argentinian goal.

Actually, FIFA and the Officials is a good name for a band. Like Florence and the Machine. What do Florence and the Machine do when they break down? They call Mike and the Mechanics. Boom-boom! Thank you Twitter, who says you're a waste of time?

Yes, alright, the goal. It came when Tevez got onto a Messi through ball, and his effort was blocked by keeper Perez as he charged out. Messi chipped it back in and Tevez headed it home from short range, but as he was about two yards offside we all just assumed it would be a free kick.

When the goal was given, there was incredulity. We all waited for the replay to tell us there was a Mexican by the left or right byline playing him on, or something, but no, it was just an absurd decision.

In contravention of FIFA's policy of rigid control over the facts, someone in the stadium chose to replay the goal on screen. The mistake was there to see, but because video evidence isn't allowed to be taken into consideration, the referee was obliged to allow the goal.

It was a terrible, embarrassing moment for football, and FIFA have acted today. Their spokesman Nicolas Maingot has promised to make sure such replays are never shown again. I kid you not, that's their response. I don't want to suggest that FIFA are a moribund bureaucracy blindly adhering to obsolete doctrines, or anything, but I can't help noticing his name is an anagram of Maginot.

Most of you will have seen the replay by now. I expect it made the news, as the second in a series of two interesting goals. There's an old Chinese curse, may your team concede interesting goals. I haven't talked about the first one yet, but I may be calm enough now.

In the earlier game, the England game, a Frank Lampard shot hit the bar, bounced over the line by a clear yard and come out again. There, I've said it. It feels better now it's out. But it doesn't make England the same as Mexico.

This is because Mexico played well but their fate was sealed by a linesman, a defensive error and the moment of Tevez genius we'd all been waiting for. Not quite Maxi Rodriguez from the 2006 game, but quite good enough to win a halfway won game. In my notes I've written you have to say that's magnificent, and I think you know which performance of high handed chicanery and effortless genius I'm talking about. England on the other hand played appallingly, and their fate was sealed by their own failure to apply the basics.

You could argue, if you were so minded, that had the Lampard goal counted England wouldn't have had to be attacking so hard and leaving gaps at the back, but then you'd have to explain why they managed to leave gaps at the back at 0-0 and 1-0 in the first half, why they neglected to plan for the not entirely implausible event of German breakaway attacks and why Terry chose yesterday to forget to only be a twat off the field. Enough.

Yes, the first game of the day keeps spilling into the second. I expect it'll keep spilling into my Christmas card greetings as well. These aren't some shallow wounds we're all carrying, you know.

The Mexicans pulled one back. Hernandez got a through ball from Gerrardo Torrado (I wonder if he's related to Melanie Bellamy?), turned his defender in the box and blasted home from short range, and you felt they might make things harder for Argentina, but in the end the game was only ever going to go one way.

So Argentina go through against Mexico, just like 2006, and they get Germany in the quarter finals, again just like 2006. Germany won that one on penalties, but I've got a feeling it might go the other way this time . After all, this is South America's year.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

England v Germany

Germany 4 Klose, Podolski, Mueller 2
England 1 Upson, and Lampard really

Well, at least things can get back to normal now. The BBC button on my toolbar will soon be reset to Football, rather than World Cup 2010, and in six weeks time we'll be kicking off at Ashton Gate. Our first game is against Millwall, and if anything's going to banish any lingering thoughts of the beautiful game that is.

I'm sure the rage and pessimism will be back too, as soon as the first soft goal goes in. Fookin' get it together City! they'll shout. That was England defending, that was!

Fans like ironic twists on their heckles, and it's not just England giving them new material. The next time there's a dirty foul or someone feigns an injury, they can recycle an old favourite. Brazil! It's just like watching Brazil! The baseline assumptions remain the same, though. How do you know when someone's feigning an injury? All away side injuries are feigned, and if they're carried off on a stretcher and substituted, it's just method acting. I've missed it, and it'll be nice to be back.

I don't know if Mick Jagger has a club, but he was back in the crowd again for England, after watching the USA crash and burn with Bill Clinton the day before. He must be having a shit World Cup. Just like us. Mark Lawrenson said he probably wasn't getting any satisfaction, but that's Lawrenson all over, always with the obvious line. It's not like he's evil or anything, but if you walked into your village pub and he was in there on his own, you'd pretend you were just getting some matches and walk out again.

Am I a little more barbed today? Is the inner me leaking out again? It's because today's the day. Every two years we go through the Grim Day. And hasn't it come round early this year?

Actually, two years ago we never even made it to the tournament. Croatia did for us, on a wet November night in 2007. It felt strange and premature, having the Grim Day in the winter. Normally the weather makes you feel worse ironically, rather than actually echoing your mood like some Shakespearean heathland storm.

In 2006 it was Portugal that did for us. I blogged that World Cup as well, and this is an extract from the post I wrote about our exit that time.

It’s just vicious, really. Like free range calves, they get to run around the field for a few weeks, but then out come the chainsaws. Discounting the third place playoff, a poor apology for a wooden spoon game which is now beyond our wildest dreams, all the last sixteen games exist entirely for the purpose of inflicting the dreary ennui of defeat on one nation after another.

Children cry themselves to sleep, grown men hide under blankets all day, flags droop sadly on the bonnets of cars. Everywhere around the world. Including qualification, every country in the entire world except one goes through this every four years, every two years if you count the continental cups.

At least England - finally - managed to give us some halfway decent football. With their backs to the wall, they played with the legs of a leaping gazelle and the fighting spirit of Douglas Bader, as opposed to the other way round like they had been doing.


And the Portuguese have a semifinal with France. Good luck, you both have a 25% chance of not ending up feeling like we do.

In fact, they both ended up with Gallic and Iberian Grim Days of their own, and Germany have a 12.5% chance of avoiding the same fate. Oh, and for those who may be tempted to carp, no I haven't just done the Douglas Bader joke for the third World Cup in a row, I've quoted it. So there.

Much of what I wrote back when being a grey haired old fart was almost novel still applies now it's become routine. There are two differences this time though.

Firstly, Grim Day 2006 happened just after the first episode of a Doctor Who two-parter, so we had to cope with Cybermen running amok, Daleks occupying London and going out of the World Cup all at the same time. This year we've just had the final episode of a series, so although I haven't watched it since the tournament started I'm assuming everything in the rest of the universe is now fine.

Secondly, last time I was able to write that at least England - finally - managed to give us some halfway decent football. This time we've had the disappointing but ultimately successful group stage, without the brief recovery.

Now be off with you. I have to turn my head until the darkness goes.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Ghana v USA

Ghana 2 - 1 USA (after extra time)
Boateng 5 Donovan (pen) 62
Gyan 93

The whole stadium was thrilled by this one, except the red white and blue bits. Africa have survived in the competition.

Boateng's goal came from the first meaningful attack of the game. He picked it up two yards inside the American half after Clark dallied and lost the ball in a tackle, and just ran at the goal and kicked it in. You felt the US defence might have had more of an opinion about it, but they clearly felt it was an internal matter for the Ghanaians to resolve themselves, and chose to stand aside.

Perhaps they were confused by the opposition names. There were two Mensahs, for instance, John and Jonathan. The name may be popular in Ghana because of its historical association with John Mensah Sarbah, an early nationalist leader. There are also two Boatengs, although one of them plays for Germany - Jerome, his half brother. And then there's Amoah, Asamoah and Asamoah Gyan. So maybe the US team were having difficulty working out exactly who they were supposed to pick up, or maybe they were just a bit slow out of the blocks.

They rallied, not for the first time this tournament. They'd come back from an early goal against England, and from two down against Slovenia. Against Algeria, an injury time goal saw them through.

And they're ranked 14th in the world, as against Ghana's 32nd. Granted, America and Mexico tend to acquire rankings above their skills because they play so many easy games against small Caribbean islands in the CONCACAF qualification rounds, but they're still a grownup team whose players play in the top European sides. Except Jay Demerit, who plays for Watford, but even he's thinking of higher things, we hear. Although to be honest, if I was an American called Demerit, I'd insist it was pronounced Demerit, not Demerit.

Their manager Bob Bradley is top notch as well, and he's always prepared to make the hard calls. After half an hour he took off Clark and brought on Edu. There was a touching moment when he took time out to give Clark a hug, and whisper consoling words in his ear. It didn't seem to do much for Clark, but as managers always say in these situations, who wants a player that's happy to be taken off?

Their best players, as so often in the past, were Dempsey and Donovan. Dempsey found Findley alone in the box, and Kingson had to make the save. Jim Beglin reminded us that Dempsey's pass came off the same left foot that he used to score against Robert Green, and to be fair we've no grounds for claiming it was a different one. Although that particular shot was a powder puff effort that the keeper was unlucky with, as they are sometimes, and hardly something to boast about.

There was a similar chance at the other end, as Asamoah Not Gyan pounced on a moment of indecision from Demerit and had his shot well saved, and then it was half time. The camera lingered on the strange sight of Bill Clinton and Mick Jagger watching the game together, surely the most powerful dirty old men at the tournament. Somewhere in the world Jerry Hall and Monica Lewinsky were realising how much they had in common. You can't always get what you want, said the commentator about the state of the game, but I couldn't help thinking about Clinton's sticky fingers. He seemed to know a lot about the game, Clinton, or maybe he's just a cocksure little twat. Perhaps next time they could mike him up, then we'd know.

Bradley repeated his trick of using Feilhaber as a second half supersub, and he was unlucky to have his shot saved at point-blank range, after Ghana had failed to cut out a cross and Altidore had flicked it on to him. it was the Dempsey Donovan partnership that got them back on level terms, though.

Dempsey burst through some rather lazy Ghanaian defending, and into the box. Jonathan Mensah brought him down, and Donovan took the penalty. It went in off the post, Donovan breathed a sigh of relief and the momentum shifted to the US.

For a while it was mainly Kingson in goal that kept Ghana in it. First he went in feet first and got the ball just ahead of Altidore, carried it through the challenge and cleared on the other side of him. Then he saved from Bradley at close range. He got lucky though when Altidore rode a Mensah challenge in the box, tumbled and from a prone position shot just wide.

Extra time, and Ghana sorted it early. Three minutes in, Gyan scored a goal really very much like Boateng's at the start of the game, just running in and shooting, although this time it went over Howard rather than in at the near post. It took the heart out of the Yanks, whose most meaningful chance for the rest of the game was a hook shot from Demerit in the last minute, that the keeper watched sail a foot over the bar.

So relief for the local fans, and the quarter finals will have one side from Africa. More accurately, sub-Saharan Africa, as the fate of Algeria seems to have met with widespread indifference. I wonder why.

But a relief, anyway. Tomorrow, England.

Uruguay v South Korea

Uruguay 2 Suarez 8, 80
South Korea 1 Lee Chung-Yong 68

It might have gone very differently, Park Chu-Young hitting the post from a free kick five minutes in, but then Forlan put in a cross, the goalkeeper dived for it but missed it, the defence switched off because they thought he had it covered, and the less trusting Suarez followed it in and hit it into an empty net from a tight angle.

He correctly calculated that the keeper would be able to get back and block if he took the time for a controlling touch, so he just hit it first time, at precisely the right angle. It's the kind of thing that doesn't look hard, but if you try and do it yourself you'll make it maybe one time in twenty. Those moments, that's why they get the big bucks. Oh, and capitalism, that's the other reason.

The Koreans put some nice stuff together, but they kept undercutting their own efforts by poor ball control, or dallying on the ball for the extra second it took for Uruguay to close them down. Just before the break they were lucky not to give away a penalty when Suarez's shot in the box was blocked by Ki Sung-Yeung's arm. It hit him hard enough, so you could argue there was no intent, but you could also argue that if you don't want to give away a penalty you should keep your arms down, instead of cocking one of them like you've had a stroke in the middle of the funky chicken.

Korea dominated at the beginning of the second half, but you never felt they were going to score until suddenly they did. It's like that sometimes. It took the kind of goalkeeping error which tells on a keeper far more than a fumble.

The free kick came in, it bounced up high off a Uruguayan head, and Muslera dithered for a crucial second, then came for it. If he'd got there quicker and punched it clear, it would have fine. If he'd stayed on his line and left it to his defence, that would have been fine too. What he actually did was to get three quarters of the way there and flap at it ineffectually, letting Lee Chung-Yong head it home.

He hung his head in shame, but twelve minutes later Suarez spared his blushes. He stayed wide left on a corner, waited for it to come across, dinked it right and hit it round the defense and in off the post.

The Uruguayans gathered in a big happy mob, behind the press photographers. They didn't seem to mind the pelting rain, although it must have been cold. You felt that it was weighing rather more heavily on the Koreans, though.

They had one last chance to equalise, when Lee Dong-Gook got the ball unmarked in the box, but his shot was straight at the keeper. Muslera actually managed to fluff it, the ball squirming underneath and past him, but it was moving slowly and the defence was able to clear.

Almost before you were ready, that was that. South America marches on, whilst Asia is now represented only by Japan. Uruguay conceded their first goal of the competition, but they now get a quarter final against Ghana or the USA. One of those teams gets a semi-final, giving them a seven game World Cup. If it's Uruguay, Suarez becomes a good bet for highest goalscorer.

Incidentally, this is our goodbye to Korean names. I've made some effort to get them right during the tournament, and I've resisted the urge to make questionable puns, even in the case of Hung Yung-Jo. Could Oh Beom-Seok tempt me? He could not. Instead, here are some facts.

The principles of naming were laid down in the Korean Naming Laws of 1812, but since then Japanese, Chinese and Western influences have made things much more complicated. In essence, the name contains three one syllable words. The first is a family name, similar to the African clan name, the second and third is the given name. In many cases, the given name includes a syllable for the generation, so brothers and sisters will have the same first two names.

You are still legally required to choose given names from a set list of options, although modern practice is undermining this. There are a mere 250 family names, and 5,000 given names to choose from. The five most common family names are used by over half the population.

Goodbye to both Koreas, anyway. You sense unification would make them a real force in world football. Although come to that it wouldn't hurt here either.

Group stage summary

The story of the group stages is one of African failure, European indifference, Asian and Central American success and South American triumph.

Europe sent 13 teams to the World Cup. South America has sent 5, North and Central America 3, as Uruguay beat Costa Rica in the playoff. Africa sent 6, including of course the host nation, South Africa.

Asia sent 4, as Bahrain lost to New Zealand in the playoff. One of the Asian nations is Australia, as they have been transferred to the Asian qualification category, so in fact Australasia have sent 2 teams. This has never happened before.

Of the 48 games in the group stage, 6 games in each of the eight groups, 15 were drawn, while 33 were won and lost. Due to the way the draw is conducted, the only group games between countries in the same continent are European.

South American teams have done brilliantly. They played in 15 games, of which they won 9, drew 5 and lost just 1. This single defeat was in the very last game of the group stage, when Spain beat Chile 2 - 1. Chile qualified for the last 16 despite this defeat.

European teams played in 39 games. They won 15, lost 11 and drew 13. This is a positive record, but low by the historic standards of European teams in the World Cup. Five of those games were between European teams, of which none were drawn, so against non-European opposition they won 10, lost 6 and drew 13. Again, indifferent by historical standards.

North and Central American countries played 9 games, of which they won 2, drew 4 and lost 3.

Asian and Australasian countries played 15 games, of which they won 4, drew 5 and lost 6.

African teams had a torrid time. They played 18 games, of which they won 3, drew 5 and lost 10.

All 5 South American countries qualified for the last sixteen. Chile finished second in their group, the other 4 all won theirs.

6 of the 13 European countries qualified for the last sixteen, just under half. This is unprecedented. 3 won their groups, 3 finished second. France, Serbia and Italy finished bottom.

2 of the 5 Asian or Australasian countries are through. As Australia and New Zealand both go home, it's equally true that 2 out of 3 properly Asian countries go through.

Ghana are the only African representative in the last sixteen. Of the other 5, Nigeria, Algeria and Cameroon finished bottom.

Of the 3 CONCACAF countries, Mexico and the US are through. Only Honduras go home.

As I type this, Uruguay have just beaten South Korea, and are through to the quarter finals. There is no reason why the semi finals couldn't be all South American - Uruguay v Brazil or Chile, and Paraguay v Argentina. I see no reason for this not to happen.

Group H - final games

Spain 2 - 1 Chile
Villa 24 R Millar 47
Iniesta 37

Honduras 0 - 0 Switzerland

Another disappointing team bite the dust, and I'm not talking about the Honduras.

It's like my junior school headmaster said in assembly once. I had two pieces of work given to me last week. I accepted Boy A's work because I knew it was his best. I gave Boy B's work back to him to do over, even though it was better than Boy A's work, because I knew it wasn't his best.

He wouldn't have been impressed by Switzerland. If he was running the World Cup, they'd be playing their games again and again until they got them right.

The Honduran team would have got a B plus. Despite being a lesser kind of a team, drawn mainly from domestic teams and Europe's lesser leagues and consisting almost entirely of brothers, they've made the most of their slender resources. They haven't scored, but they've tried to score. They let one in against Chile and two against Spain, but kept out a Swiss team that must have wanted to win. No goals, but a point, and a measure of self respect.

Switzerland, though. Talented players, but none of the virtues that impress headmasters. For the second World Cup in a row. Now go home, and next time try harder.

The real action was in the Chile v Spain game. Chile started really well, but fell behind when their goalkeeper ran out to clear a ball five yards from the byline, and instead of hoofing it over knocked it very precisely to Villa. Seeing the empty goal fifty yards away, Villa chipped it over the rapidly retreating goalkeeper and the covering defender, and was already celebrating by the time the ball crossed the goal line.

Thirteen minutes later Iniesta put in a second, and Chile's Marco Estrada got sent off for bringing down Torres. The replay suggested it was accidental, but sometimes defenders are unlucky.

Two goals and one player down, Chile rallied after the break. They got a goal back, at which point both teams realised that would do, and settled. Because of the extra goals, Switzerland would have needed to score twice, and that didn't seem very likely. And so it proved.

So Spain play Portugal, and Chile play Brazil. Something to look forward to.

Group G - final games

Brazil 0 - 0 Portugal

Ivory Coast 3 - 0 North Korea
Yaya Toure 14
Romaric 20
Kalou 82

Well that was just shit. After Japan and Slovakia show the world how it's done, two of the top teams had the chance to re-establish their credentials. Hey look at me they could have said, through the medium of flicks and shimmies. But no.

And I wasn't expecting anything else. Neither of them had anything to gain, you see. Brazil were through anyway and Portugal knew a point was enough. Top place didn't matter, or rather it wasn't clear whether first or second place was best because the Group H games hadn't been played, and under those circumstances why would they bother entertaining us?

Is that cynical of me? Only if you forget that all these players have been selected. Not just selected in the sporting sense, but selected in the Darwinian sense as well.

Actually that's a misrepresentation. Even in the case of footballing dynasties like the Redknapps or the Lampards, it's not as if footballing prowess is actually affecting their ability to reproduce as such. There is no natural selection at work here. But there is an application of the principle of the survival of the fittest.

It's straightforward enough, if you think about it. Within the niche environment of football, clubs rise or fall according to their ability to score goals, and stop their opponents scoring them. The ones that succeed are promoted, those that fail are relegated. The environment changes from time to time, rules are tweaked, new strategies emerge, and teams have to adapt or pay the price for their rigidity. Players also rise or fall individually, by getting transferred to better or worse teams.

The footballing equivalent of camouflage or sharp teeth, the things that get you selected, are fitness, positional sense, being tall and so on. The ability to control and direct a bouncing ball without using your hands is obviously an asset. As is the fine art of moral compromise.

In football, morals could for instance mean a distaste for cheating, or a desire to give something back to the public, even if you don't personally benefit. If you have morals in football, you aren't going to be prepared to fall over to win a penalty, demand a corner when you know it's a goal kick, pass the ball from side to side for ninety minutes and so on. In footballing terms, a strong sense of ethics is simply a form of poor ball control.

Ask any West Brom fan. West Brom are a team who spend half their time getting promoted from the Championship and the other half getting relegated from the Premiership. Their fans are intimately familiar with the difference between the two. They will tell you how much dirtier the Premiership is, just as they'll tell you how much better Premiership players are at all the other football skills. Championship players, on average, aren't quite as spectacularly good at shooting, crossing or moral abdication as players on the next level up.

At World Cup level, we're watching the cream of the cream. Anyone who fails at any football skill isn't going to make the cut, because there are always other players to come in and fill the gap. There are probably plenty of Brazilian and Portugese players looking at the crowded stadium and thinking well, they've come a long way and spent a lot of money, surely they're entitled to some kind of spectacle, but they're all watching on the telly like the rest of us because they've failed to master the skill of shamelessness.

It's just maths. If the rewards for a certain behaviour outweigh the risks, then that behaviour is going to emerge. Emerge in the technical sense, of simply following from the initial premise without any intent being required. To address the problem you have to change the maths, and to change the maths you have to tweak the rules. Take simulation, for instance.

Make simulation one of the most punishable offences in the game, make punishment retroactive and introduce a committe whose job is to review all games and apply it, and the maths changes. Even if individual players didn't change their behaviour, their selection fitness would fall because they were suspended so often, and in the end they'd find themselves playing at a lower level. Players who disdained simulation, on the other hand, would find empty places to step into in teams like Portugal or Real Madrid.

Not that it would have helped much yesterday. You can tweak the parameters around simulation, but I know of no rule change that would make teams come out and play.

In the other game, Ivory Coast scored about a third of the goals they would have needed if Brazil had made the necessary effort to beat Portugal, and like every African country except Ghana they're on their way home. North Korea, meanwhile, finish with zero points, one goal for and twelve against. Let's hope Kim Jong-Il isn't from the Saddam Hussein school of sports management.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Outcomes - groups G and H

Group G
If Portugal beat Brazil, then Portugal top the group and Brazil finish second.

If Brazil and Portugal draw, then Brazil top the group and Portugal finish second.

If Brazil beat Portugal, then Brazil top the group and second place goes to Portugal or the Ivory Coast, depending on goal difference. The Ivory Coast would need to overturn a nine goal gap as things currently stand.

Group H
Another complicated one.

If Chile beat Spain and Switzerland win or draw against Honduras, Chile top the group and Switzerland are second.

If Chile beat Spain and Honduras beat Switzerland, Chile top the group and the team with the best goal difference from the other three are second.

If Spain beat Chile and Honduras win or draw against Switzerland, Spain top the group and Chile are second.

If Spain beat Chile and Switzerland beat Honduras, Honduras are eliminated and the other three nations are placed according to goal difference. Spain are guaranteed a place, while Switzerland get a place if they beat Honduras by two goals or more, or Chile lose by two goals or more.

If Spain and Chile draw, Chile top the group, while Spain are second unless Switzerland beat Honduras, in which case Switzerland are second.

Group E - final games

Japan 3 - 1 Denmark
Honda 17 Tomasson 81
Endo 30
Okazaki 87

Holland 2 - 1 Cameroon
van Persie 36 Eto'o 65
Huntelaar 83

This one was a tale of two free kicks, both for Japan. Honda took the first, from about 40 yards out. The commentator was quite surprised to see him lining up a shot, and wondered whether he might be disguising his intent to play a pass. No, he was advertising his intent to score without anyone getting anywhere near it, including Sorensen in goal. He duly did so, the double bluff taking keeper and commentator equally by surprise.

Which was something neither of them liked, so when Japan got another free kick just outside the box, in fairly much the position you'd put the ball for a free kick if you had a choice, you can be sure they were both keeping a careful eye on Honda. Leaving Endo the less observed of the two players over the ball. Two nil, carefully plotted and faultlessly executed by a very impressive Japanese team.

The half time panel felt it was all Sorensen's fault, he should have put the wall in a different place, moved to the opposite corner himself, and so on. I can't help noticing how everyone knows this after the ball's in the back of the net, but it's quite rare to have it pointed out before. Although Harry Redknapp did point out that you normally put the tallest defender on the end of the wall, which even I know, and it's fairly poor defending if you forget to apply footballing principles even I know.

He's sharp as a tack, that Harry. Asked by Gary Lineker if he was considering splashing out on a Honda in the summer, he said he might be swapping one for his Bentley.

Denmark came out after the break and tried, but realistically it was game over. Tomasson put away the rebound from his own penalty miss (which is why it doesn't say pen next to him on the heading), but Japan just went down the other end and scored again. A draw would have been enough for them anyway, but they chose to go out and win it even though they didn't have to, just because they could. Which other World Cup nation are they reminding me of? Actually, no-one else at all.

Group F - final games

Slovakia 3 - 2 Italy
Vittek 25, 73 Di Natale 81
Kopunek 89 Quagliarella 90 + 2

New Zealand 0 - 0 Paraguay

This was the stuff World Cups are made of. Italy follow France home, and both finish bottom of their group. New Zealand finish above Italy, something they can hardly have dreamed of, but don't qualify for the last sixteen. On the other hand, they haven't lost a game.

And if you see who finished last in the first six groups, it tells the story of the competition so far. France, Nigeria, Algeria, Serbia, Denmark and Italy. Four European and two African nations, some viewed as real contenders before the tournament began.

There was no clue to Slovakia's rebirth in their previous two games. Complacent and punished against New Zealand, they were overwhelmed by Paraguay. Against the World Champions they came out mysteriously rejuvenated, something so unlikely there's only one way to account for it. Slovakia? Translovakia, I say. Virgin's blood, that's their secret.

You can tell just by looking at Martin Skrtel. If ever a man's turned to the dark side, he's the one. There's only one foodstuff perks up a man like that, and I'm not talking about black pudding.

Whilst vampiric transfusion is obviously the main explanation, woeful Italian defending may have been a contributing factor. Vittek's goals both came from errors at the back. De Rossi gave away the ball to Hamsik, who slipped it through for the first, while Chiellini was embarrassingly slow to Hamsik's volleyed cross, allowing Vittek to knock it in at the near post. Hamsik to Vittek, you'd have thought they'd have been watching out for it.

Just before half-time, there was an incident which summed the game up. Gattuso caught Strba in a challenge, and his stud went right into Strba's knee. The camera zoomed in sickeningly on the hole, neatly punched in just below the patella. Slovakian coach Vladimir Weiss was halfway through bringing on Kamil Kopunek for him, but Strba, on the opposite touchline, waved him away. I suppose when you're up for it one and a half knees is enough.

He got through to halftime, they did some knee hole surgery on him in the break and back he came for the second half. In the end Kopunek didn't get on for him until the 86th minute, although when he did get on he got his moment. Gattuso, meanwhile, came off at halftime, a sacrifice to the Italian need for urgency.

The Slovaks just wanted it more, you see. Weiss is a bit of a hard nut himself. Before the game he'd responded to a journalist's hostile questioning by threatening to smack him in the mouth. The squad responded to this by boycotting the Press. It's a physical game, Slovakian football.

Italy came back and scored through Di Natale, but this was Kopunek's moment. Running through an Italian defence that hadn't really adjusted to his presence yet, he got onto a bouncing cross and lobbed it over Marchetti and in. Three one, and game over, you thought.

Earlier Italy had brought on Pirlo, icon of 2006, but Quagliarella was their best player. At one nil, his volley was hacked off the line by Skrtel. At two nil, his was the shot that rebounded to Di Natale to score. At two one he had a goal disallowed for offside, a highly marginal if probably correct decision. And at three one, his chip from twenty five yards gave them hope to the end. If Pepe had scored in the final seconds rather than scuffing his shot wide, they'd have been saved.

Afterwards, the Italian manager Lippi refused to shake Weiss' hand. There's been a little too much of that, if you ask me. Slovenia were guilty of some play acting towards the end, it's true, but it's a funny old world if the manager of Italy can get upset over a little theatricality.

Meanwhile, Paraguay and New Zealand played out a dull nil nil. Paraguay top the group, while New Zealand go home with three draws, and finish above Italy. Slovakia go second, and have to sell the plane tickets they probably bought. Perhaps the Italians could have them.

Group D - final games

Germany 1 - 0 Ghana
Ozil 60

Australia 2 - 1 Serbia
Cahill 69 Pantelic 84
Holman 73

There's an advantage to playing in group D rather than group C. England didn't know what their result implied for the round of 16, but Germany knew a win gave them England, while Ghana had to face the much harder prospect of the USA. If Defoe's chance after the break had gone in (or Rooney's, or Lampard's), both teams would have faced the mathematical conundrum of trying to come second.

Oh they'll say otherwise, they'll say the usual things about all teams being decent teams at this stage, having to beat what's in front of you, and so on. But you've all watched England and the USA. Who would you want to play?

Australia, meanwhile, were just hoping Ghana would beat Germany. As things turned out, their initial catastrophic four nil loss to Germany gave them a goal difference they were never going to recover from. Nice to see them and New Zealand going home with some dignity, though, in New Zealand's case without even the dismal prospect of a transoceanic flight in the company of Harry Kewell.

And there's a fortunate side effect to the Australian victory, which is that one African country goes through. In a tight group, a Serbian equaliser would have given them equal points with Ghana, equal goal difference but one more goal scored, which would have put them through. They had two chances in injury time, and missed both of them.

At this stage the calculation is what I enjoy most, to be honest. Every time someone scores, or doesn't, there's an immediate tangible consequence. The USA's last minute goal against Algeria left two million Slovenes sad, and three hundred million Americans watching the basketball anyway. They probably think it's a bit peculiar running the World Cup while the NBA finals are on.

If the main story of the night is constant arithmetic, the other one is chances missed. Serbia and Ghana both had opportunities to put the game away in the first half. Serbia will be rueing theirs this morning. Ghana will be quietly pleased.

Outcomes - groups E and F

Group E
Holland are definitely through, and Cameroon are definitely out. If Holland win or draw against Cameroon, they top the group.

If they lose, and Japan or Denmark win their game, then Holland and the winner go through, in an order to be decided by goal difference.

If Japan and Denmark draw, Holland are top and Japan second on goal difference.

Group F
If Paraguay beat New Zealand, they top the group and the winner of Italy v Slovakia are second, Italy taking second if they draw.

If New Zealand and Italy win, they both go through, places between them being decided by goal difference.

If New Zealand and Slovakia win, New Zealand top the group and second place goes to Paraguay or Slovakia, places between them being decided by goal difference.

If New Zealand win and the other game is drawn, New Zealand top the group and Paraguay are second.

If Paraguay and New Zealand draw and Slovakia win, Paraguay top the group and Slovakia are second.

If Paraguay and New Zealand draw and Italy win, Paraguay and Italy go through, places between them being decided by goal difference.

If both games are drawn, Paraguay top the group and second place goes to Italy or New Zealand, places between them being decided by goal difference. If the score in both matches is the same, Italy and New Zealand have to be split by lots.

Goup C - final games

England 1 - 0 Slovenia
Defoe 22

USA 1 - 0 Algeria
Donovan 90 + 2

A turnaround, of a kind. Not enough to justify doing the Douglas Bader joke again, but signs of progress, or at least the desire for some.

The goal came early, fortunately. After 22 minutes Defoe got onto Milner's cross and shot home from close range, under pressure from Suler. Slovenians may have felt their keeper could have done better, but in truth it was straight at him, on him and through him faster than human reflexes can be expected to work.

And he had a good game otherwise, Handanovic. If it wasn't for him Gerrard would have scored a few minutes later, but he blocked the shot, then twisted to grab it before it crossed the line. Lampard, meanwhile, blasted over with an empty goal before him when he surely ought to have done better. It was an awkwardly bouncing ball, but he is supposed to be Frank Lampard, after all.

After the break Defoe put a great chance wide in the first minute, while Rooney was just offside as he ran onto a Gerrard pass and crossed for Defoe to tap in. Later, Terry's header from a corner was kept out by another Handanovic save, while Rooney's unchallenged shot hit the post and bounced left, the wrong way. Apparently a glaring miss, the replay showed this to be a great save as well, Handanovic's fingertips causing the two degree deflection that stopped the shot going bouncing right and in.

Terry's header was unlucky, and he did his bit at the other end too. At one point he blocked a Novakovic shot, then hurled himself across the box in a vain attempt to block Jokic's effort with his face. Fortunately perhaps, it was Johnson's foot that did the necessary, and Birsa blasted the rebound wide, but today no-one is talking about Terry as anything other than a hero.

And this is how he handles his life. In the twelve years of his senior career, he's played 391 games for Chelsea, Nottingham Forest and England. Allowing 96 minutes a game, that's an average of eight minutes and forty nine seconds a day when people actually like him. For a man like him, that may be enough.

It was a tense last ten minutes, knowing that one slip up meant elimination, but England held on. They spent most of injury time down by the Slovenian corner flag, the least nerve-racking place for them to be. They could have stayed there from the twenty third minute and it would have been fine by me. I'm full of Stoical tips for all the other countries, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

Poor Slovenia, though. After a tournament beyond expectations, they go out to a last minute US winner against Algeria. Their performance against the US alone ought to have earned them something, but you could say the same about the US, and we can't all go through.

The highlights of the USA v Algeria game are worth a watch, if you're up for it. Donovan's last minute winner gives them a game against Ghana, while England face Germany. Again. I just can't stand it.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Outcomes - group D

Group D
If Ghana beat Germany they top the group. Serbia are second unless Australia beat them, in which case Australia are second.

If Germany beat Ghana and Serbia beat Australia, Germany probably top the group and Serbia are second, unless Serbia win by three goals more.

If Germany beat Ghana and Australia beat Serbia, Germany top the group and Ghana finish second unless Australia can turn round a five goal gap as it currently stands.

If Germany beat Ghana by two or more goals and Australia and Serbia draw, Germany top the group and Serbia finish second. If Germany beat Ghana by one goal, Germany top the group and Ghana and Serbia are equal on points and have the same goal difference, so it comes down to goals scored, and possibly Ghana's victory over Serbia as a tie breaker.

If Ghana and Germany draw and Australia beat Serbia, Ghana top the group and Germany are second, unless Australia win by five goals.

If Ghana and Germany draw and Serbia beat Australia, Serbia top the group and Ghana are second.

If both games are drawn, Ghana top the group and Germany are second.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Outcomes - group C

Group C
This is England's group, and it's complicated.

If England beat Slovenia and the USA beat Algeria, then England and the USA go through. Top place would be decided by goal difference, England needing to win by a greater margin than the USA.

If England beat Slovenia and Algeria beat the USA, then England are top and Algeria or Slovenia are second, depending on goal difference.

If Slovenia beat England and the USA beat Algeria, then Slovenia top the group and the USA finish second.

If Slovenia beat England and Algeria beat the USA, then Slovenia top the group and Algeria finish second.

If England beat Slovenia and Algeria and the USA draw, then England top the group and Slovenia come second.

If Slovenia beat England and Algeria and the USA draw, then Slovenia top the group and the USA come second.

If Slovenia and England draw and the USA beat Algeria by two goals or more, then the USA top the group and Slovenia are second. If they beat Algeria by one goal, it depends on the number of goals scored in each game.

If Slovenia and England draw and Algeria beat the USA, then Slovenia top the group and Algeria are second.

If both games are drawn, then Slovenia top the group and the USA are second unless England draw with at least three more goals than the USA do.

If both games are drawn and England draw with two more goals than the USA do, then Slovenia top the group and the second place is decided by lot. Oh yes.

Group B final games

Argentina 2 - 0 Greece
Demichelis 77
Palermo 89

South Korea 2 - 2 Nigeria
Lee Jung-Soo 38 Uche 12
Park Chu-Young 49 Yakubu (pen) 69

There was no way I was getting caught out this time. Seven thirty start, checked and double checked on those well known custodians of the truth the BBC website, seven twenty five on goes the TV.

So it was with no little chagrin that I realised Virgin Media were taking a short break from their onerous duties. Fifteen minutes of shouting and swearing later, I'd established an alternative signal from the old aeriel in the living room, told my new TV how to talk to it and was sat flicking between the two games, quickly enough under the circumstances but not - quite - quickly enough to see the Uche goal.

I ended up mainly watching the Argentina game anyway, so missed both South Korea goals before it dawned on me the real action was elsewhere. I did see the Yakubu miss, though.

Yussuf put a cross in from the left which beat keeper Jung Sung-Ryong and came to him right in front of the goal, three yards out, with the goal empty and no defender anywhere near him. It seemed to come off his heel, and bounced just wide of the post. Fortunately for him, it looked offside. Unfortunately for him, offside wasn't given.

The highlights on the BBC website normally come with sound, but when I clicked on the forty three second clip of this miss just now it played in an eerie silence. It worked in the context, even if it was a bit cruel Photoshopping in the tumbleweed.

We often talk about privileged young footballers, strutting about with models and the like, but this is the other side of the equation. First we build them up, then we make them carry the burden of moments like that for the rest of their lives.

For Yakubu, though, there was redemption. Two minutes later, Nigeria got a penalty. Kim Nam-Il knocked Abasi over in the box, and Yakubu said he'd take it. He timed his run up perfectly, the keeper moved just too early and he slotted it home in the opposite corner.

Some of you are thinking so what? He misses a shot you should make 99.9% of the time, then he scores a penalty which you should score from 80% of the time. If that's you, then your view is harsh but common. One time at Ashton Gate one of our players missed a penalty, and the guy who sits behind me said, in all seriousness, that he should be fined a week's wages for it. Exactly how that's supposed to motivate players to want to take penalties I wasn't sure.

You have to see the courage of Yakubu in that moment. If he'd missed, he'd forever be remembered as the man who missed a sitter then a penalty in two minutes. Not in a Carling Cup replay at Brentford, but in front of the watching world. Just think how many eyes were on him at that moment. Watching Yakubu miss a sitter and a penalty would have become a more common shared experience than voting. He could have declined the opportunity and passed the buck, no-one would have thought any the less of him.

He toughed it out, and despite everything that must have been going through his mind at that moment he had the wherewithal to coolly tap the penalty in rather than blast it. He knew which way the keeper was going, so he knew that the only thing that could go wrong would be if he actually missed the target, so he made sure he didn't. Resilient? The man is human granite.

It didn't change anything, obviously. At two all, South Korea had four points and Nigeria only had one. Martins had a chance to win it at the death, but chipped over the keeper and wide. If it had gone in Nigeria would have gone through above Greece and South Korea on goal difference, but because it didn't they finish bottom and go home.

That's hardly the point though, as Marcus Aurelius would have known. You don't show strength of character because you have faith the universe will reward you, you show it because it's the right thing to do.

From Greece, meanwhile, stubbornness of a different kind. They hung back for 75 minutes, defending against an Argentine side that really didn't seem that bothered. They hung back even after the first Korean goal meant nil nil couldn't possibly be enough for them. They hung back even after Argentina scored. Even when their manager Otto Rehhagel was stood on the touchline urging them on, they still didn't attack.

They couldn't. After a tournament of defensive spinelessness, they'd forgotten there were other options. They let a second one in just before the end, then they slunk away like whipped dogs. There was a fan dressed as Achilles near the exit. I wonder if any them looked him in the eye?

To the victors went the warrior's most precious trophy, deferred death. Argentina play Mexico, while South Korea get Uruguay. Anyone betting against a South American final?

Group A final games

Uruguay 1 - 0 Mexico
Suarez 43

South Africa 2 - 1 France
Khumalo 20 Malouda 70
Mphela 37

This is now Day Twelve of my new life, due in three short weeks to be my ex-life, and I'm drifting free of my moorings. I expect there's been world events, but to be honest, if they don't last ninety minutes with a change of ends in the middle I'm probably going to be hard pressed to pin them down.

A few things have popped into my Google Reader. Apparently the other PR company that run things now have made a new budget, and I heard a rumour Glastonbury was on. The earth's supply of oil is still gushing through a big hole in a Gulf, although someone's just parked outside the house, so there must be some left somewhere. Bit of a shocker though. Millions of tons of the stuff clogging up the water, inadequate safety precautions, thousands of wannabe Red Adairs trying to put a cap on it. All through the World Cup. Bastard corporate bloodsuckers, no sense of perspective at all.

When you think how focused on football I've been you might have assumed I'd have clocked on that the third round of games were starting at three o'clock, not three thirty, but no, Klutzy Klutzington here turns on the TV at three twenty five to find the France South Africa game an unsurprising twenty five minutes in.

Of the Mexico Uruguay game there is no sign. The BBC are showing that tennis thing instead. I don't mind the tennis thing in odd numbered years, but it does seem a bit cheeky to be running it now. Don't they know the World Cup is on? Surely even Cliff Richard watches the World Cup?

A brief exploration reveals that ITV has both games, on ITV1 and ITV4, and to be fair it's what they do with the Champions League, so there's good precedent. I decide to stay with France and South Africa anyway.

And a shock may be on the cards. South Africa are one nil up, with France apparently down to ten men, and while I'm still assimilating this information they score again. Tshabalaladingdong is free down the left, and puts in a cross which Diaby can only deflect to a yellow shirt. Said yellow shirt crosses anonymously, as far as the BBC website seem to care, and Mphela bundles it into the goal despite the inadequate attentions of Clichy.

A minute later it's in again, from Pienaar, but this one is given offside. As we watch in astonishment, the news comes in - a goal for Uruguay, from a Suarez header.

At half time, South Africa are only two goals behind qualification. I take the opportunity to check the highlights. It turns out that the first goal was scored from a corner, Khumalo heading home after the French keeper Lloris has come for it and missed it completely. The red card was shown to Gourcuff, for elbowing Sibaya, a decision that looks a bit harsh on the replay.

Not that Gourcuff will have minded. He'll have been happy enough to be off the pitch over an hour before the rest of the team. I don't recall the last time I saw players less keen to be in a World Cup game.

You've probably all heard the story by now. Nicolas Anelka was kicked out of the French squad after a tirade of abuse directed at manager Raymond Domenech. As a result, the entire French squad refused to train yesterday morning, and the managing director of the French Football Federation resigned in protest at that refusal. French captain Patrice Evra and the fitness coach Robert Duverne had to be separated, and following their clash Duverne threw his accreditation badge to the ground and stormed off in disgust.

Support for Anelka's character has come from ... John Terry. As a person, you won't find a better man in football, said Terry. Logically, John Terry being in football, this amounts to an admission that he's a worse man than Anelka. I truly find it impossible to arbitrate on that.

The squad, meanwhile, hoped to ensure that France regains its honour by playing well today. Domenech leaves the job after the World Cup anyway. President Sarkozy asked the sports minister Roselyn Bachelot to stay in South Africa, and she visited the players to tell them off.

Her words are given here (France stars may boycott match). I told the players they had tarnished the image of France. It is a morale disaster for French football. I told them they could no longer be heroes for our children. They have destroyed the dreams of their countrymen, their friends and supporters.

Personally I've always found that kind of talk a little theatrical, but apparently it worked on the players, as she said they applauded me and they were crying during her speech. I guess it's a language thing. Imagine it said with a French accent, and you'll probably be welling up as well.

There was some concern for a while that despite Bachelot's Joan of Arc bit some of the players might refuse to play. In the event none of them did, although the captain Patrice Evra was dropped. After the first half display of undermotivated incompetence, he must have been glad.

Well, at least the England camp isn't the worst shambles in the World Cup. And they came back a bit in the second half. It took a while, and South African hopes were raised as Mphela first hit the post, then drew a smart save from Lloris, but in the end it was the French that scored. Sagna passed to Ribery down the right, he burst into the box and laid it across to Malouda, who tucked it into an empty net.

That was how it finished, and at least South Africa had a win. France didn't, but they did have a goal, and the chance to at least leave the field with dignity. Well, a goal anyway.

That Domenech, you really have to wonder. He refused to shake Parreira's hand because the South African manager had previously said that France had cheated their way to qualification. Parreira said he couldn't remember the quote, but it's true anyway, as Henry's handball against Ireland was clearly intentional and clearly decisive. And how typical of Domenech that he should focus on that as he walked off to face the undying hatred of sixty five million lyrical existentialists.

For the home nation, an early exit, but at least some dignity. They'd won one, drawn one and lost one, a lot better than predicted, and were only eliminated on goal difference. If they'd been offered it at the start they might have taken it.

Meanwhile in the other game, the one no-one was paying much attention to, the two actual qualifiers from the group played each other. Uruguay's win puts them top of the group, while Mexico finish second and probably play Argentina. Just like in 2006. Wonder if Maxi Rodriguez will play?

Outcomes - groups A and B

This is the most open end to the group phase that I remember from any World Cup. Only two teams are definitely through - Holland and Brazil. Only two teams are definitely eliminated - Cameroon and North Korea. By the end of today, six teams will be through and six will be out.

Group A
If Mexico and Uruguay draw, then Uruguay top the group, and Mexico are second. If either win, they top the group. If Mexico win, then France can take second place from Uruguay if they beat South Africa, and do better on goal difference. If Uruguay win, then South Africa can take second place from Mexico if they beat France, and do better on goal difference.

Both of these outcomes are less likely. Most probably, Mexico and Uruguay will progress.

Group B
Argentina are definitely through unless Greece beat them by a hatful of goals and South Korea beat Nigeria by another hatful. Nigeria are definitely out unless they beat South Korea by two goals and Argentina beat Greece.

Assuming Argentina go through in first place, South Korea join them unless Greece get more points than they do. Argentina then South Korea is the most likely result.

And if you think all that was complicated, just wait until we get to England's group.

Spain v Honduras

Spain 2 - 0 Honduras
Villa 17, 51

The big news for Spain was that Torres was starting. In the end, it was Villa's night.

They combined in Spain's first big attack, when Villa's cross found Torres unmarked in the box, but his miskick spun into Valladares' welcoming arms. In the next attack Villa went alone. His shot, from 35 yards and out of nothing, hit the Honduran bar, with the keeper nowhere.

You sensed it would be a long night for the semi-professional defence. Ramos headed over a Xavi cross, Villa cut inside but his shot missed, and then they scored.

It was a Villa solo effort again. He came in from the left again, nipped easily past Mendoza and Guevara, dinked it to the right of Chavez and shot. The keeper did remarkably well even to get a hand on it, but there was no way he was keeping it out.

They could have had more before the break. Xavi headed Navas' cross just over, the ball having come to him a few inches too high, Then Ramos put it on Torres' head soon afterwards. Torres' header hit the ground hard and bounced over, the story of his night. Soon after that he was wrongly given offside, and just before the break his shot was blocked. Pranav Soneji on the BBC website asked how come he hadn't scored yet, but if anyone knew they weren't texting in.

Villa settled any persistent Spanish nerves on 51 minutes. He hit Xavi's pass on the edge of the box perfectly well but was perhaps lucky to see it get a slight deflection and spin over the goalkeeper's arms.

Ten minutes later he missed a penalty, after Izaguirre had brought down Navas. It looked goalbound, sending Valladares the wrong way, but went just the wrong side of the post. It didn't matter.

Midway through the second half, Fabregas came on for Xavi. He beat the offside trap, took it round the keeper with his first touch and shot, only to see it cleared off the line. Villa had a great chance blocked by Mendoza's athletic recovery tackle, to stop him getting his hat trick, while Navas and Ramos both had chances.

In the end, Honduras held out at two nil. They had a couple of chances of their own, Georgie Welcome spurning the chance for more name-based punning by heading wide from a free kick, but there was only one winner.

That was the end of the second round of games. Everyone has now played twice, and has one group game left, so this was the last game to leave a team's fate undecided. Now it all comes down to Spain against Chile. Can't wait.