What We Learned From Group D Eliminators

The Absolute Limits Of Human Endurance – Germany 1 – 0 Ghana

By now I’ve watched a lot of World Cup action. And it’s time to talk about ITV’s TV coverage. Aside from the awesome own goal of managing to miss Engerland’s opening goal by having some sort of ad break instead – a none too uncommon occurrence for ITV – their coverage is, frankly, a disgrace. Adequate commentators backed by inept, uninteresting pundits who think that telling you what you just saw counts as insight, they seem more interested in the celebrity spotting camerawork than they do in actually covering the action in any meaningful way. But then again they don’t need pundits, presenters and insight because that all gets in the way of the adverts, which gloriously pimp gambling, drinking and banking, all things that people could do with less of.

Anyway, halfway through the Germany Ghana match, as ITV punditry gave way to another bout of advertising effluence, I was forced, forced you understand, to switch over to the Wimbledon coverage. And it was just too compelling. Two guys, on court for the best part of 10 hours (yes that is ten hours), were at 55 – 55 in the fifth set. And that’s not a tennis score like 40 – 30, that’s 55 games each in the fifth set. And that’s what they’ve played today. I worked it out. Given that to win the World Cup you’ll need to play 7 matches, three in the First Round and four knockout rounds, that’s an absolute maximum of 12.5 hours. To win the World Cup. So these guys, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, have basically played their way to the World Cup final in one day and they haven’t even finished their tennis match. By the time they stopped (it was getting too dark to play) it was 59 – 59 and there had been a total of 4 (count them, 4) break points in the entire match. Isner looked like he could hardly move, but was still serving aces (97 to date) on demand. Mahut, who is French, is in line for the kind of sporting elevation that only Presidents can give as a grateful France discovers a sporting hero to counterpoint their spoilt dysfunctional football team/squad/federation/manager. I don’t think Mahut has any idea of the hero’s welcome he’s going to get when he finally goes back to France, but he looks fresh. And it was an illustration of how far this World Cup has to go to produce really memorable games that it is being overshadowed in terms of both drama and sporting achievement by a single first round match at Wimbledon. By the way, whoever does, eventually, win this match they will have a second round match on Friday (in addition to actually finishing this match tomorrow).

Anyway, that over I was able to return to the recorded Germany Ghana match, but you know what, it seemed a little dull in comparison to a match where players are literally playing themselves to death right in front of you. So Germany won (as if we believed there was any other outcome) to set up a Round of 16 match with Engerland and you know what, I’m really not that bothered. At their best this Engerland team has the beating of the Germans, at their worst, Engerland deserve to go home. Ghana, meanwhile, become the first (and only?) African team to get through to the Knockout Stages.

Oztralia 2 – 1 Serbia

Yeah, well goodbye losers.

40 Down 24 To Go 21 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 Germany vs Serbia (0-1)

If This Was A Chess Game

It was one of those ones where both players stuff all their pawns and other pieces into the middle before beginning the all-important ‘taking’ phase. Both teams appeared to play a 2 – 7 – 1 formation, which left the midfield somewhat crowded and the lone striker option always covered by two defenders. Same old, same old, the central challenge being the one that has dogged the entire tournament, namely how do you creatively work your way through the massed ranks of defenders to get to the goal? So far no one has provided a consistent answer, indeed the only clear answer seems to be to have a diverse set of options so that the defence is always challenged. Spain failed because they never managed to move beyond their tippy-tappy through the middle, eye of the keyhole threat and capitalise on the wingplay of Jesus Navas. And while the game was changed by the ref’s exuberant use of cards, it didn’t seem to help the Serbians even when the Germans were down to 10 men. Bar a couple of good runs by Krasic, who looks like the smelly child at school who was always bullied, the Serbs showed no adventure whatsoever. The Serbs are comfortably one of the three shittest teams at the World Cup (hands up Oztralia and France).

When I Went Off On That Rant On The Ref From The Seychelles

And said that we should have more refs with Champions League experience, I was obviously mistaken as the Spanish ref was fucking atrocious. He started off giving cards for pretty minor tackling from behind, then sent off Kloser for more tackling from behind, then suddenly seemed to have a moment of clarity when he realised that there was a danger he could end up sending off both teams, before reverting to type at the end and going back to booking everyone.

If This Was An Engerland Game

You’d have bet the house on the Germans scoring that penalty.

21 Down 43 To Go

What We Learned From Ghana vs Serbia (1-0)

You’re Just A Stereotype

Both sides played into the highly unbiased neo-bigotry we brought into the game. Ghana, the fiery heart of Africa, played neat, muscular football, while Serbia, the self-conscious new boys in Europe, went cagey, cautious and all ex-communist. And in the end it was the extra adventure of Ghana that proved the deciding factor.

Two New Moves (Not To Be Encouraged)

We’ve seen two exciting new moves in this World Cup. Unlike previous  moves such as the Adriano or the Cruyff Turn, which have been great ways of altering the direction of the ball and player and are obviously great examples of ball skills, these are detrimental to the game. The first is the ‘Green Save’, whereby a seemingly innocuous vaguely goal-bound effort is deftly spooned into the net. Exemplified (invented even) by Engerland’s Rob Green, this is the pinnacle of goalkeeping howlidge. Not content with watching the ‘Green’ being showcased yesterday, the Algerian keeper decided to develop his own variation of the ‘Green’ and watch the ball into the back of the net without even bothering. The second new move is the blatant handball in the area masquerading as a ‘Maradonna’ or a ‘Henry Assist’. Invariably spotted and punished, this move, like the ‘Green’, is a game changer. We saw how Ghezzal’s attempt the catch the ball and ‘Henry’ it into the net changed the game in Slovenia’s benefit. Here we saw the first defensive use of the ‘Maradonna’ as Serbia’s Kuzmanovic attempted to volleyball the matchball away from a Ghanahan head, conceding a completely needless penalty in the process. It was a just reward for Ghana’s more adventurous play throughout the match.

There Was A Danger Of Football Breaking Out

What with Ghana’s more ambitious play overpowering Serbia’s caution and ex-Spurs reject and Pompey mainstay Kevin Prince Boateng taking charge in the middle of the field, there seemed to be a danger of footballing breaking out during the game. Nice to see.

7 Down 57 To Go