WC2014 Ivory Coast 2 – 1 Japan

Late night World Cup football reduces fans to ever more ingenious ways to stay awake.

Late night World Cup football reduces fans to ever more ingenious ways to stay awake.

Get Ya Motor Running

Just no.  No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Or as the Brazilian commentators so beloved of TV and radio outlets everywhere might say, “Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!” Once again we can blame the corrupt filthpigs of FIFA for forcing us to remain awake, watching football for over 8 hours. That’s almost an entire working day, but in the middle of the night. And that’s just not on.


Great Info Graphic

Guardian info graphic for the Fukushima nuclear plant

Excellent info graphic from the Guardian for the state of play of the Fukushima nuclear plant. I love the use of the Food Agency inspired colour coded risk levels.

Quick and informative, which is the key for graphics like this, but I can’t help feeling that it’s peaked a little early. As Shakespeare says (admittedly in Shakespeare In Love), if you start out so high where do you go when you meet the love of your life? What colour do you go to if everything goes seriously wrong? Black?

And should the graphic start flashing like a Star Trek warning alarm?

Alternatively, does it actually get much worse than ‘Blast, fire, radiation leak’? At that point I’m definitely running.

What We Learned From Paraguay vs Japan (0-0)

It’s The End Of The World As We Know It

Both these teams are like bad Premiership centre halves approaching the opposition half and suddenly realising where they are and immediately falling into panic mode. They have achieved beyond their wildest dreams. For Paraguay, this is as far as their nation has ever gone, while Japan, prior to this tournament, had never won a World Cup game not held in Japan. Their coach, who was prepared to resign during the team’s charabanc tour of every footballing venue in Europe, can now retire gracefully to his farm, where he will always be addressed as Football-Manager-San and probably won’t have to pay for anything ever again.

The saddest thing about this match was that it was essentially a throwback to the very First Round of matches. Both sides emerged like frightened rabbits, too scared to attack, happy to pass it around their back four and stultifyingly dull. The Japanese actually seemed to have the better of it, making more vaguely attacking moves, but none that had the cutting edge of their match against Denmark.

You sense that there is a huge unseen psychological impact that the World Cup exerts on teams and players. For Japan, you sense that they gave it all in the match with Denmark and somehow felt that they had reached the summit of their achievement, that this match was one match too far. You can see it writ large in the dreadful, painful Third and Fourth place play-off that neither side wants to be in and which too often collapses under the pressures of the previous semi-finals. Paraguay just don’t seem very good, yet, thanks to the failings of Italy and Slovakia, have lucked out into this, the easiest of Second Rounds. How Engerland would have like to be playing Japan. Actually, on second thoughts based on our previous friendly with Japan, we’d probably lose that one 4 – 1 as well.

It went to penalties. Paraguay won’t get past Spain.

55 Down 9 To Go 9 Teams Remaining

Extra Extra What About Them Second Rounds Then

Group Of Ease

Yeah, so one of Uruguay, South Korea, USA or Ghana is going to a World Cup semi-final. And, let’s face it, that should have been Engerland not USA in that list. Out of these I give the Koreans little or no chance, for while they have a great team with a couple of decent players, they’re up against Uruguay, who have the excellent Diego Forlorn, who seems to be one of the very few players not to have been overwhelmed by the scale of the World Cup and has actually seized control of and dominated games. I see Uruguay going right the way through to the semi. USA have a great team with a never say die attitude, but attitude aside all they really have to offer is Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey and I’m not convinced. Ghana are a great strong passing side, who haven’t managed to score goals other than penalties so far. You can see them riding the wave of African euphoria, but they’re going to have trouble when they come up against a quality side.

Group Of Death

Forget any previous pussy, lame Groups of Death, this is the real thing. Germany, Engerland, Argentina and, well there’s always one, Mexico. For Engerland to get to the semis, we’re going to have to beat both the Germans and the Argies. If we get that far life will be very sweet indeed and we’ll probably only have to beat Spain and Brazil to win the big lump of gold. So no pressure there boys. If we want to win it, we’re going to have to do it the hard way. Heart says we go through and win, rational analysis says it’ll be the bloody Argies (again).

Group Of Football

With both Holland and Brazil, this should be a group of total football. Holland, I suspect have been playing a very cagey game and not really over-exerting themselves. Straight wins throughout their First Round matches means that they haven’t really been tested yet and I don’t see the conquerors of Italy, Slovakia, giving them any trouble at all. I think the Dutch will open with their wingmen and then we’ll see some football. Brazil and Chile should play off a great South American cup tie, but given Chile’s attack only policy and Brazil’s excellent defence I see Brazil wiping the floor with Chile’s poor quality defending. Brazil v Holland will be a cracking quarter final, which will provide Brazil with a really serious test, but this Brazil side is pretty formidable and, like the Dutch, just beginning to find their form. I see this as Brazil’s group.

Group Of Unexpected

Ideally, Spain and Chile should have switched groups, but they didn’t so this group has the Tweedledumb and Tweedledumberer match up of Spain and Portugal, in some ways it hardly matters which one of them comes through. Spain will have a tough game, they seem to have lost their way mentally and don’t know which direction to go in. Now true World Cup Champions always undergo some kind of transformation during the tournament, but the transformation Spain are undergoing is tortuous. Will they sacrifice the beautiful game that got them here for a pragmatic hoof and wingplay game we saw them trying before Chile gifted them the game? Portugal will be a hard test, they have a rock solid defence and are really hard to play against and when they’re in flow as they were against North Korea, they can’t half knock in the goals. I see Portugal going through. Paraguay and Japan will be a fantastic, open game, the Japanese will not give in and Paraguay are a decent team. This match should be a cracker and I see Portugal going out of this group.

The Semis

I see these being

Uruguay vs Engerland

Brazil vs Portugal

Can’t help being optimistic eh?

What We Learned From Group E Eliminators

Japan 3 – 1 Denmark

Quite why we should have been so scathing about Japan’s inadequate set piece play is a mystery. Their free kicks were outstanding, the first being a stunning long range missile from Honda, the second a great slip it in the corner by Endo. After that the Danes had no chance. The Japanese had one of the most exhausting build ups to the World Cup, apparently rolling around Asia, Europe and Africa in their tourbus playing every shitty venue that had goalposts. They gave Engerland a great game and would have utterly wiped the floor with them if it hadn’t been for their very genial habit of gifting their hosts a couple of own goals just to avoid causing offence. And all their work has paid off. They have a defence that seems utterly familiar with one another, ultra-organised and very capable of dealing with all kinds of attacks, in Tuilio Tanaka, they have an excellent central defender. They also pass the ball really well, moving it about the pitch and proving a real handful for any defence, especially one as laborious and slothful as the Danes’. They don’t look like the lightweights everyone imagined them to be and will be a real handful for Paraguay, who they play in the next Round.

As for the Danes, they are a disaster. Bendtner joins a long list of Arsenal players who have woefully underperformed at the World Cup. He looks like a striker with no confidence and no mental strength to adapt his game. Still he wasn’t helped by having the utterly useless Jon Dahl Tomasson as the team’s main striker, a forward who hasn’t scored internationally for two and a half years. But you think that, given their only meaningful attacks in their previous match against Cameroon came down the right via Rommerdahl, they would have attempted to exploit his pace down the wing. And to be fair, the one time they tried that, deep in the second half they created a useful goal-scoring chance, which Tomasson conspired to fail to even hit, let alone hit on target. Instead the Danes seemed content to waft the ball straight up the middle into the loving embrace of Tuilio Tanaka, who would then (in typical sneaky Japanese style) set up another graceful 22 or so pass attack for the Japanese. Even when they had a very soft penalty, the Danes could barely take advantage. Once again the thoroughly useless Tomasson was at the heart of the action, tamely slapping the ball at the goalkeeper and then attempting to do his best to knock the rebound wide. Being Tomasson, naturally, he failed even to do that and scored. I don’t see Denmark playing much of a part in any upcoming tournaments.

Holland 2 – 1 Cameroon

Cameroon are playing the useless African card. Inextricably bound up in the super-ego that is Samuel Eto’o they have become a team that is wholly subsumed by one individual in complete opposition to everything this tournament has taught us – namely that the team is everything. More than Messi or Rooney, Eto’o dominates the team to the point where he is the de facto manager, a situation which cannot be any good. Sure Eto’o is a great player, you can’t argue that he was the catalyst behind Barcelona’s defeat of Arsenal in the Champions League final, nor that his unselfish work on the wing for Inter helped them to this year’s Champions League, but he seems to require a firm managerial hand to really achieve and that’s obviously not what’s going on with Cameroon. Played 3, lost 3 is a woeful record in a Group that, the Dutch aside, is fairly well balanced.

The Dutch, meanwhile, are still playing that powder dry thing. They didn’t need to win this and, you know what, I don’t think they really tried. They’re still playing that stupid game where they start with both Snejder and Van Der Vaat, which you know makes no sense other than to pander to the super-ego that the latter obviously has. You know that the Dutch are so much more effective when they have both the clever passing of Snejder and the fast-paced wingplay of Elia, Robben and others. However, the Dutch haven’t remotely needed to play their strongest cards in this Group where they have comfortably won all three games.

So Bye-Bye Cameroon And Denmark

Frankly, this was one of the easiest Groups to finish second in. Economy class please.

44 Down 20 To Go 18 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.