Tuesday, 22 June 2010

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?

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