Tuesday, 22 June 2010

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?

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