WC2014 France 3 – 0 Honduras

Crunch Time! The Hondurans demonstrate their 'robust' tackling style on Pauvre Petit Pogba

Crunch Time! The Hondurans demonstrate their ‘robust’ tackling style on Pauvre Petit Pogba

Oooof! That Was Painful

Well it’s not as if we hadn’t had some kind of an early warning about this. Engerland’s ‘friendly’ with the Hondurans gave ample insight into their sadly not unique playground brutality, not least when the Ox was taken out of the tournament after a particularly petulant encounter.  And while some may pine for the era of Chopper Harris and the legitimate ‘welcome’ from behind, this kind of behaviour has no place in the world of dilettante multi-millionaire playboy soccerstars.


What We Learned From Group H Eliminators

Suicide Is Painless – Spain 2 – 1 Chile

Suicide may be painless, but as the Theme From M*A*S*H so accurately states, it brings on many changes, none more so than the act of suicidal madness that led to the first Spanish goal. Spain were being soundly humiliated by a Chile side that just hasn’t got a clue what ‘careful defending’ means, so much so that you just couldn’t believe this was the same ‘tikki-takka’ loving possession-hogging  Spanish team that had gone nearly a million football years without losing and is currently European Champion. They seemed totally screwed, neither sticking to their pretty passing, nor going for a more varied mix-it-up strategy, almost as if they had had some kind of psychotic incident following their loss to the Swiss which caused them to undergo a total  personality change. Up to the point which we will in keeping with the best traditions of spoiler avoidance simply refer to as the ‘unfortunate incident’, the Spanish had no chance of surviving this match and every chance of joining France and Italy in Economy Class.

Now I’ve rightly slated the ITV coverage of this tournament, but one prescient comment in this match stands out. Summeriser Chris Coleman, not usually one to make intelligent observation, referred to Chilean goalie Claudio Bravo as “a bit of a risk, you never know what you’re going to get”. No sooner had he said it than Bravo inexplicably sprinted out of his goal to try and cut off what looked like a classic ‘hoof and bope’ attempt from Pique. Although he made the ball before Torres and the defender chasing him, he failed in that most vital of defensive tasks, namely hitting the ball into Row Z. Instead the ball landed in front of David Villa, who was prowling around the centre line and presented him with a totally empty net to aim at. Now I’m sure it took a fair amount of skill to trap the ball and then lob it into the net, but it did look like one of those goals that even you could have scored. 1 – 0 and the Spanish basically hadn’t even got out of bed.

It illustrates everything that is great and exasperating about Chile. In the same way that Switzerland only know how to defend, Chile only know how to attack. Their 3 – 1 – 3 – 3 formation is really flexible, when they’re in attack they leave 3 at the back, but as soon as they lose possession one of the midfield players drops back into defence, but it is essentially set up to attack. And once they were a goal down, their defensive inadequacy came to the fore as they started to incorporate a policy of ‘hack and slay’ on the Spanish, picking up a load of bookings and one sending off. After that it was essentially game over.

The Spanish still haven’t overcome their psychological  torment, even though they were tippy-tapping it around at the end. They still look completely unsure of what they want to do in a footballing philosophy sense. And while it’s great that Switzerland didn’t get through, it’s a shame Chile weren’t the Group winners, if only because Spain’s win sets up an all-South American clash between Brazil and Chile and an all-European clash between Spain and Portugal. It would have been much more interesting to see two ties between Europe and South America really.

All We Are Saying Is Give Us A Goal – Switzerland 0 – 0 Honduras

So well done to Switzerland, you continued your wholly average run through the last two World Cups, drawing every match and barely scoring any goals. And remain comfortably the least interesting international football team in the world. All you had to do was score and you just couldn’t do it. Even your goal against Spain was more of a happy accident than an attempt on goal. And jolly well done happy Honduras, comfortably the worst and least interesting team to watch (and that’s saying something). You never felt they were capable of adding anything to the tournament.

So Bye-Bye Switzerland And Honduras

48 Down 16 To Go 16 Teams Remaining

Extra Extra What We Learned At The Halfway Point

The Competition Has Kicked Off

Yes, the Second Round of Group matches were certainly better than the First Round. Most teams understood that they couldn’t simply defend all the time and play for a draw, even the Swiss, whose adoption of an almost ‘Neutral Country’ option has seen them regularly top both the Haven’t Conceded and the Haven’t Scored tables, realised that at some point they’d have to come out and have a shot, although to be fair they did have something that vaguely resembled a shot in the First Round and it paid off handsomely. The games got faster and more meaningful as we saw Matches That Mattered and teams realised that there was a very real danger of their World Cup ending later this week.

The Goals Are Coming

As teams threw off the shackles of defensive cowardice and started attacking we began to see more goals. Few teams were content to sit on a one goal lead and continued to press their opponents. Some goals were even good, although few of them were up to the Tshabalala standard. However, I distinctly remember exclaiming, “What a goal” more than once during Round 2.

The Cheating Has Started

Grab and Dive, with or without pirouette, is the order of the day. Compulsive penalty box wrestling at every set piece. Not that much deliberate diving, but plenty of subtle blocking and writhing around. All in an attempt to cheat your way to a free kick or some colour of card for the opposition, or both. Not good. I think if it continues, we will see some kind of tv replay system introduced on the fly, if only because the whole world is watching.

Lots of Empty Seats

Now that it’s getting serious I suspect we won’t be seeing too many empty stadiums, but I’d lay money that there will be empty seats at the Uruguay Mexico match, where both teams need only to draw to go through (0 – 0 anyone?). However, too many venues have been conspicuously less than capacity.

Who Has Been Naughty?

It’s goodbye to South Africa, France (very naughty), Nigeria, Greece (very bad),  Algeria,  Oztralia (awful), Serbia (painful). Cameroon, New Zealand (rubbish), Slovakia (tedious), Ivory Coast (unlucky to get Group of Death for the second World Cup in a row), North Korea, and Honduras. You are all officially too crap for the World Cup. Book your flights now.

Who Has Been Nice?

And it’s hello to Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, South Korea, Ghana, Germany, Holland, Paraguay, Italy, Brazil, Portugal, and Chile. Nicely done South America.

And Who Is Bricking It?

Group C is totally up for grabs with two of Engerland, USA and Slovenia, the permutations are excruciating, but basically all teams have to win to be sure that they will qualify. In Group E Japan and Denmark will duke it out, a draw being enough to take the Japanese through. Group H is so complicated that Spain, Chile and Switzerland could all end up with 6 points and theoretically identical goal differences and goals scored, in which case as Spain will have beaten Chile, who have beaten Switzerland, who have beaten Spain lots would have to be drawn.  Makes penalty shoot outs seem tame by comparison.

And Who Is Really Bricking It Most?

Has to be ever-optimistic no-hopers Engerland, who just seem utterly unable to cope with the pressure of having to play a few matches away from home in front of large television audiences. Basking in unwarrented media acclaim and with performances getting more inadequate by the day, Engerland are a disaster waiting to happen. And while the French are imploding with a farcical degree of hilarity, Engerland can’t even manage an effective internal coup d’etat. One thing is clear, Wednesday could be the most excruciating game of football ever played.

What We Learned From Spain vs Honduras (2-0)

Spain Seem To Have Stepped Up A Gear

Where previously Spain seemed to have no answer to Switzerland except to try and force their way up the middle, with only a few minutes of wingplay, against Honduras they started with Jesus Navas, who immediately gave them width on the right and allowed David Villa to drift over to the left while Torres played down the middle. This way they were able to pull Honduras all over the field, their right back having no answer to Villa’s wingplay. However, Honduras were nowhere near as accomplished as Switzerland in terms of defending and Spain were nowhere near the tippy-tappy best they showed in last year’s Confederations Cup. Here they were merely superior and functional, playing the long ball far more often than they tried to pass their way through the Hondurans. Villa had a hatfull of chances, scoring two and missing a penalty, Torres seemed lacklustre and Sergio Ramos couldn’t buy a goal if he had a fistfull of dollars.

Fabregas Seemed To Energise Them

Cesc didn’t come on until late, but he seemed to immediately energise the Spanish side, making their attacks a little more vibrant and emphatic. It seems that Spain, like so many sides, are still looking for their ideal side, it should probably include Jesus Navas and Fabregas, but maybe not Torres?

Are Honduras Stuffed Then?

According to my I-Spy World Cup Handbook, Honduras are officially down and out. The best they can do is beat Switzerland, which will give them 3 points, and if they did it by more than 3 goals would put them above the Swiss, but even if Spain were to lose to Chile, leaving them on 3, they would probably have a better goal difference and even if they did Spain have beaten them. So I’m fairly confident that Honduras are officially stuffed.

32 Down 32 To Go 29 Teams Remaining

What We Learned From Honduras vs Chile (0-1)

At Last! An Alternative

Chile are mad. I can still remember when they came to Wemberley in ’98 and Salas scored a brilliant Route 1 net-bulger, controlling the long ball on his thigh, before lashing it in on the volley. Boy were we both gutted and impressed. Salas is obviously not there any more, but Chile are still mad. They play an interesting 3-1-3-3 formation, which is somewhat unusual, and they haven’t bought into this Mourinho defensive pragmatism. No, they are a throwback to a bygone age when sophisticated rearguard actions consisted of a kick in the teeth from ‘Chopper’ Harris and a free kick if you were lucky.

At Last! South Central American Football

And we don’t mean Compton LA. We expect the South and Central Americans to be focused on a more extravagant, flamboyant football and you could see pretty early on that both sides had the rather quaint notion of attacking the opposition and trying to win the game. How utterly naive we thought, they will get found out if they make it through to the next round. But then they will have got through to the next round by playing good football and winning, which is more than many teams will achieve. And that was a lovely goal even if the actual ‘shot’ was a bit jammy.

Refs From The Seychelles

Hmmmm Now we’re all for the international world fellowship of football that FIFA loves, but I’m not sure the World Cup wouldn’t be better served by having more refs from larger countries, who have experience at international and Champions League levels, than spreading the love all the way around the world’s holiday hot spots. That said the ref from Uzbekistan, who did the first match was spot on.

15 Down 49 To Go