Monday, 5 July 2010

Quarter finals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So that's the semi final line up.

Holland v
Uruguay and
Germany v

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

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

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

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