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.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Chile v Switzerland

Chile 1 - 0 Switzerland
Gonzalez 75

It didn't take Humberto Suazo long to make his mark on the game. He made it on Grichting's left thigh, thirty seconds in. A yellow card, and the most excitement in the first ten minutes.

Vidal broke the tedium, with a 25 yard shot that stung the palms of the keeper. It fell to Carmona, whose effort drew a rather better save. Soon after, Suazo's effort failed to connect.

That was it for a while. Chile were as industrious as they'd been against Honduras, but the Swiss defence is rather more obdurate. They carried on as they'd left off against Spain.

It worked for half an hour, then Behrami got sent off. He had his back to Vidal, and leant against him with an arm. The referee clearly felt he'd actually hit him, which I have to say seemed harsh.

Switzerland carried on with their usual game. Nkufo held the fort as the sole front man, Frei being replaced by Barnetta, while Sanchez, Suaro and Beausejour played their nice little passing moves in front of the defence without really making much progress through them.

For the second half, Chile replaced Vidal with Gonzalez and Suazo with Valdivia. At first, it seemed to make little difference. They scored from a free kick, but it was correctly disallowed for offside. Of the three Chilean players beyond the line, one was obstructing the goalkeeper's line of sight, and therefore interfering with play.

There were many, many yellow cards. Inler was booked for his tackle on Fernandez, Fernandez apparently for being tackled. He now misses the Spain game. Medel, known in Chile as the Pitbull, gave Von Bergen a playful little swipe, and Von Bergen went down as if he'd been savaged. Cue yellow.

Lichsteiner got gently tapped on the bum by a forward's boot, and carried on like Derek Jarman was screen testing him for the role of Saint Sebastian. No yellows for this, just a lingering sense of distaste all round.

Soon after that Chile got the goal. Valdivia played a lovely pass through the Swiss defensive back four to Paredes, who took it round the keeper but found himself on the goalline, yards from goal. Nothing daunted, he chipped the ball over keeper and covering defenders to Gonzalez, whose header bounced high, over Lichsteiner's foot and in. Some Swiss players seemed to be suggesting that Lichsteiner could have done better, but it must be hard to get your leg too high when your buttock's in that much pain.

Switzerland had to come out now, and things picked up from the neutral's point of view. Bunjaku came on for Fernandes (Fernandez for Chile, Fernandes with an S for Switzerland, thanks again to the World Cup casting department for all your valuable help), and made himself busy. Chile had converted one chance and squandered many, so you couldn't help but worry for them in the closing minutes, but when Derdiyok got the one big chance for Switzerland right on injury time, Inler flicking Ziegler's cross on to him right on the penalty spot, he shot wide. And that was that.

Two one nil wins for Chile, then, but surprisingly it's still not enough. If they lose to Spain and Switzerland beat Honduras, Chile, Spain and Switzerland will all be on six points, and one of them would go home. Another tense group, going into the final games. Good.

Rachel in Sussex

Who said this to the BBC, via text, during the Portugal North Korea game.

I'd better start this message by saying I know next to nothing about football and am therefore happy to be shot down, but could the England players be suffering from - what I think is called - paradise syndrome? I imagine that players are cosseted and protected for much of their working lives by agents and others from being totally immersed in poverty, but in SA, what with some WAGS taking part in documentaries on poverty and the word being spread by the BBC's coverage, combined with hours to sit and think about the disparities between nations, maybe players have begun to wonder how important it all is? I certainly have at times during the competition. Paraphrasing Leonardo Da Vinci, 'inaction saps the vigour of the mind' - maybe the camp could organise something that got the players more involved on a practical level and give the players something to feel proud of and satisfied by?

Firstly, respect to anyone who's prepared to type Paraphrasing Leonardo Da Vinci on their mobile phone. I'm just guessing predictive text doesn't help all that much.

As far as paradise syndrome is concerned, I think I'm living it now. I'm on leave and there's hours and hours of football, every day. I'm looking out the window, and the brightness of the walls opposite suggests the sun is shining. I'm not sure if inaction is sapping the vigour of my mind or not. On the one hand I could describe the career history of the Ivory Coast back four in some detail, on the other hand I can't quite remember how many toes I've got. I would bend down and count them, but my back's gone. Never mind, I can still reach the phone and the pizza people are on speed dial.

I have to say, though, I'm a little sceptical that Wayne Rooney's off his game because Colleen's been raising his consciousness about the high incidence of waterborne disease vectors in the townships. I also note that according to Wikipedia, paradise syndrome only affects people who feel they have nothing in life left to accomplish. If there's anyone in the England team feeling like that, the media storm waiting to engulf them if tomorrow goes the wrong way will surely straighten them out.

And if any of them are really wondering how important football is, let me reassure them that it's very important indeed, and honestly, there's definitely no need for them to be concerning themselves with social issues.

Portugal v North Korea

Portugal 7 - 0 North Korea
Meireles 29
Simao 53
Almeida 56
Tiago 60, 89
Liedson 81
Ronaldo 87

The North Korean keeper, Myong-Guk Ri, said this about his side's battling 0-0 draw against South Korea during their qualifying campaign. I felt like I was guarding the gateway to the motherland. Communists, don't you just love them? Not that Communists are supposed to have motherlands, what with it being an internationalist political philosophy and everything, but I suppose if God can have a son, Communists can have motherlands if they like. It's a Dadaist, Derridaist topsy turvy world, after all (no it isn't, by the way).

This really wasn't how to guard a gateway though. If they'd guarded the Yalu bridges like this in the Korean War the UN would have got to Beijing. By full time the Korean gateway was a pile of embers and smashed slate in the middle of an open highway.

It started well enough, evoking comparisons with the Brazil game. Portugal had lots of pressure but precious little result for it, and Korea had some attacking moments of their own. It took until the twenty ninth minute for the first breakthrough. Tiago played the ball into the box, Meireles ran through without being picked up and his shot went in.

Even then, the Koreans kept a lid on Portugal until half time. Ronaldo had one long range shot, well wide, prompting commentator Simon Brotherton to remark that he must be very disappointed, as Messi's been getting all the headlines in Spain. Soon after he got unceremoniously tackled and dumped to the ground, to the audible joy of Brotherton, colleague Mick McCarthy and the entire world. I didn't hear the universal rejoicing, as I had my windows closed, but I'm sure I heard a deep global rumble coming through the floorboards.

At the start of the second half, Myong-Guk Ri fumbled a Ronaldo shot, nearly lost it but got away with it. He might briefly have thought it could be their day.

It didn't last, of course. On 53 minutes, Portugal's elegant passing combinations finally paid dividends. Coentrao, architect of much of their best play, played a long ball through to Meireles on the edge of the box. His one two with Almeida made the space for the lay off to Simao, coming through unheralded and unheeded on the right, and the shot went between Ri's legs and straight into his gateway.

Three minutes later, Coentrao's cross found Almeida's head, and the ball was in the net for a third. Four minutes after that a Ronaldo cross came to Tiago unmarked in the box, and the game was over as a contest. From one nil to four nil in nine minutes, and they'd still found the time for two Korean substitutions.

It might have been kinder if the game had ended then. Instead, it plodded on for twenty minutes with nothing much happening. It seemed like that was that, but there was a sting in the tail.

On 81 minutes Ri Kwang-Chon failed to execute a routine defensive clearance, the ball squirmed past him to Liedson and he added a fifth. On 88 minutes, it was Ronaldo's turn.

Another defensive error let Liedson in again, he slipped it to Ronaldo and Ronaldo went one on one with the keeper. The shot hit Ri's arm and the ball went up in the air as Ronaldo ran past him. Ronaldo was looking down as he tried to keep his balance, and the ball bounced off the back of his head. He looked up, and it bounced again off the top. He stopped, and it fell down in front of him. He volleyed it in to an empty net as the disbelieving Korean defence closed in. Six nil, and the weirdest goal I've ever seen. Football, you couldn't make it up.

There was just time for Tiago to get a second, headed in from a Veloso cross. The Koreans tried to get one back, for dignity's sake, but there was no dignity out there for them today, except that which comes from honest endeavour inadequately rewarded.

Portugal achieved two things with this result. Firstly, they finally put to bed the old story of Portugal v North Korea, 1966. They won 5-3 that day, but only after going 3-0 down, and the initial Korean success against the footballing world order has lived in the popular imagination rather longer than the Portugese restatement of facts. From now on, the tale will be one of twelve consecutive goals without reply.

Secondly, they got the goal difference they needed to virtually guarantee their progress to the last sixteen. For the Ivory Coast to take second place ahead of them, they need to beat Korea and have Brazil beat Portugal to a combined total of nine goals. Realistically, another African dream bit the dust here. Of their six representatives, only Ghana have a real chance of progress.

North Korea become the second team to be eliminated from the World Cup, after Cameroon. Can they pick themselves up to face the Ivory Coast?

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Brazil v Ivory Coast

Brazil 3 - 1 Ivory Coast
Fabiano 25, 50 Drogba 79
Elano 62

This was a funny one, a mixture of the brilliant, the tedious and the downright ugly. And that's without Ronaldo even playing.

It was a slow burner of a game. I've got more notes for the last ten minutes than I made for the entire first half. Brazil raised our hopes thirty seconds in, Fabiano bursting through and shooting just over virtually from the kick off, but the next 24 minutes had just the one decent chance - Roberto Silva's shot from a corner, slightly off target and deflected clear by Touré before it had a chance to bounce anywhere dangerous off the Brazilian knees behind him.

I cannot tell a lie, I didn't see which defender it deflected off. I chose Touré because there was two of them, so the odds were better. Kolo plays for Man City, Yaya for Barcelona, and they have 132 caps between them. Why do I think giving you facts makes it better somehow?

As so often happens, a period of quiet was followed by a goal. Fabiano used his strength to bustle through the Ivorian defence, but found himself at a difficult angle wide right. With a square inch of goal in the top right hand corner to aim at, he hit it perfectly for one nil.

It shocked the Ivory Coast, and they took a few minutes to compose themselves, but all the chances at the end of the first half were theirs. Dindane had two, but the first was blocked and the second, from distance, was easy enough for a keeper of Cesar's quality. For a country with a great tradition of crap keepers, Brazil seem be to doing all right at the moment - Cesar plays for the Champions League winners Inter Milan, the backup Gomes for Spurs and third choice Doni for Roma.

The last chance of the half fell to Eboue, but his shot was deflected wide. At the break, the Africans must have felt they were still in with a chance.

They had a rude awakening soon after the break. It was Fabiano again, lobbing one defender, dodging another and again lobbing a third before smashing the ball home seemingly through Boubacar's body. He plays for Lokeren, you know. The Belgian team? Yes they're in the top division, they finished fourteenth.

It was a brilliant individual goal by Fabiano, so it was a shame when the replay showed he'd used his arm to control the second lob. There's a dark side to the flamboyant geniuses of world football, of which more later.

This time there was no recovery period for the Ivory Coast. Almost immediately, Drogba had a great chance on a cross. He made space brilliantly, working the defender to get the three feet of space he needed, but his header went just wide. Soon after he played a one-two with Gervinho, who'd just come on for Dindane, but Gervinho just failed to get hold of the return.

Even my lovely readers, despite your reluctance to obsess over the game to a halfway appropriate level, will be familiar with the Ivory Coast manager, one Sven Goran Erikssen. Many you will have had sex with him, and those of you that haven't will know someone who has.

Perhaps you can explain, then, why he's so reluctant to play Gervinho right from the start. He's clearly a brilliantly talented lad, and whilst there's nothing wrong with Dindane as such, he does have, shall we say, a certain aroma of Portsmouth hanging over him. He did OK today, but Gervinho was their best player by a country mile. Why are country miles longer, by the way? I'd have thought they were shorter, because there's less in the way.

It didn't matter today, as Brazil went three up soon after he came on. Kaka got the ball down by the corner flag and managed to get a cross in without having to pass any of the defenders. Elano came in faster and stronger than anyone else, got to it first and tucked it away.

Now that the football was decided, it gave everyone the chance to concentrate on pretending to be hurt. The Brazilians are past masters at this, and gave the Africans a lesson which at least one of them took to heart. Tiote got a yellow card for unclear reasons, and Keita got one for reasons of very clear faking by Bastos.

Mixed in with the pretending to be hurt was some actual hurting, and it was sometimes hard to distinguish the one from the other, but suddenly in the middle of it a goal broke out. Gervinho ran seventy country yards with the ball, right into the box. He was stymied by cool defending and had to lay it off, but as the ball was returned Drogba ran through the offside trap, timing his run perfectly, to find himself stood all alone with the ball falling delicately onto his head. Being Drogba, he put it where it needed to be for three one.

And the Ivory Coast had one last sucker punch to land. Keita walked up to Kaka and nudged him, Kaka nudged him back and Keita went down holding his face. It earned Kaka a second yellow, and off he went.

It was petulant, although you can understand him wanting to stick it to the Brazilians after all their diving and rolling around, but above all it was tactically stupid. Brazil's last game is against Portugal, the Ivory Coast desperately need Brazil to beat them, and now they'll be playing them without one of their top players. Idiotic.

The whistle went soon after, bringing the action to a close before anyone could pretend to hit anyone else with an imaginary rolling pin. Another African nation loses a game, what a terrible few days for them. By the end of the group phase, all six could well have been eliminated.

Italy v New Zealand

Italy 1 - 1 New Zealand
Iaquinta (pen) 29 Smeltz 7

Well now we really have seen everything. I myself have some words to eat. For I said this to my new housemate Mick. It's Italy New Zealand next. I wouldn't bother with it, Italy will slaughter them.

Mick demurred, pointing out that it was the World Cup and anything could happen, but I, bless my little brain, insisted that a slaughter would be on its way. And I was right in a way, because Italy did slaughter New Zealand, one all.

The New Zealand goal came early. Eliot's free kick was flicked on by someone in a melée, bounced off the unwitting Cannavaro's arm and fell to an astounded Smeltz, who whacked it in.

It was clearly offside if the crucial flick was off Winston Reid's head, but not, obviously, if it the head was Italian. The consensus seems to be that it was Reid and the goal should have been disallowed. I couldn't tell from the replay during the game, and the quality of the webcasts isn't adequate to resolve the issue. It counted, anyway.

Italy, stung by the impudence of it all, immediately launched an eighty minute attack. It nearly succeeded instantly, as a Camoranesi free kick travelled all the way through, but Paston was alert and fended it off. Zambrotta was next, but his thirty yard scorching shot went just wide left and over. You felt it was just a matter of time.

The best chance fell to Montelivo, with a shot from about the same position as Zambrotta's. It seemed to be flying wide as well, but then it swerved as it passed in front of the standing Paston and hit the post. The rebound passed behind the still standing Paston a tenth of a second later, probably leaving him wondering if he was playing in quadrophonic or what, but was then cleared.

Struggling for inspiration, Italy turned to their traditional methods. Tommy Smith tugged on De Rossi's shirt at a free kick, De Rossi went down half a second after he'd let go and the referee gave a penalty. It was definitely a foul, but there was more than a hint of histrionics in the time delay. In fact there were several bushels of histrionics in the Italian response to physical challenges all day. The last time I saw such exquisite expressions of pain was the torture scene in the Battle of Algiers.

Iaquinta scored routinely from the penalty, and it seemed like the first of many, but in the end that was their lot. In fact, despite their pressure, New Zealand defended so well that Italy only had two shots in the last twenty minutes of the half, Criscito's going over and De Rossi's being blocked by Paston. He was having a much better game than he did against Slovakia, when he'd looked vulnerable. Tonight he commanded his box.

After the break things carried on in much the same vein. Di Natale got in behind the back line, but his angle was tight and his shot was saved. Iaquinta was closed down on a Da Rossi pass, and his effort went well wide.

New Zealand had clearly been told to try and hang onto the ball, and they did for short periods, just knocking it among themselves without threatening much. The object wasn't to attack, so much as to catch their breath before the next Italian onslaught. They did have a second shot of their own, which fell to Vicelich. It was from thirty yards out and went well wide, but it's the principle of the thing. You want to get a second attack in at some point, then you know that when you're talking about it in an Auckland bar in twenty years time you can legitimately refer to your chances.

The Italians seemed unable to respond. They've had similar problems with the newer footballing nations at previous tournaments. In 2006 they could only get a one all draw with the US, and then just squeezed by Australia in the second round with a contentious last minute penalty. In 2002 they were knocked out by South Korea.

They tried. Montelivo, trying to replicate his spectacular effort in the first half to greater effect, evaded two tackles and shot from thirty yards, but Paston saved and the rebound went to a Kiwi, as they always seemed to. Soon afterwards the New Zealand captain Nelsen had to stretch to clear a cross as a forward lurked behind him, the net gaping in front of him, then Tommy Smith took a bouncing ball off Iaquinta's foot just in time.

In one mad minute Cannavaro, Camoranesi and Di Natale all had chances, but suddenly Wood nearly nicked it for New Zealand, battling his way through Cannavaro's challenge and shooting from a tight angle. The shot flew just past the far post, fortunately for Italy, but it seemed to reignite their traditional caution. At the end, it felt like Italy weren't too dismayed with the draw. After all, a win against Slovakia in their last game still takes them through.

For New Zealand, it was the greatest day in their football history. For some of their players, the prospect of a Premiership payday looms alliteratively. And for the ones going back home after this, they'll never have to pay for another beer again.