World Cup Watch (2)
By Steve Wade
I am definitely flagging, and just like the Sellotape which wilted in the heat and left my World Cup poster dangling, my enthusiasm has started to droop. The truth is, that trying to fit in three games per day, has proven a bit too ambitious and I've resorted to the double-speed play button and the fast forward, more times than I am proud of.
For heaven's sake, I have even taken to tea-drinking during the matches, as I have found that if you are feeling a bit hot, alcohol tends to make you feel hotter. So not a thoroughly convincing performance from me on the settee but like Eriksson, I blame the heat for my tendency to fall asleep in the second-half, and I am looking to improve, as I move into the second phase.
The football has been brilliant though, compared with you know who, and it seems that even the worst teams in the tournament, can actually control the ball and pass it to a colleague, for what seems like a remarkably high number of times in succession. This, I am just not used to, so I can't help but be impressed. The start of next season will definitely require an adjustment of expectations.
Trouble is, its getting a bit like tits on your first Spanish holiday. You know how it goes - when you first get off the plane, your eyes nearly pop out of your head the first time you get a flash, but a week or so into the holiday and suddenly its not just any old tits you are prepared to go goggle-eyed over - blasÚ about tits - its hard to imagine but true. In short, you tend to get spoilt. The World Cup is like this, its easy to start taking it all for granted. The quality of some of the play is just astounding.
There are some tremendous players on display and some glaring disappointments, including some ex-super stars who now look tragically mortal. Zidane still looks like a decent player but is burdened with, unrealistic expectations and the responsibility, others should now be shouldering. The most shocking sight was the bloated figure of Ronaldo, who was said to have felt unwell after Brazil's opening game and the doctor he consulted suggested that it was unwise for such a fat bastard to be running around on such a warm day. He was said to be upset by this and protested that it wasn't his fault and that his weight-gain was entirely down to some
mad English fan, who had been sending him Mars bars through the post. So what with Zidane and Ronaldo looking a bit tired and Raul not making the starting eleven for Spain, there was a clue to why Real had such a disappointing season.
Still the difference between being lauded as world-beaters and being condemned as a bunch of tossers, is as slim as ever. And, as the Ukraine found out against Spain, some very dodgy off-side decisions early in the game from the Swiss officials, handed the initiative entirely to the Iberians; who then went on to slaughter them, and were even given an extraordinary penalty, once again by the suspiciously bad Swiss. With their tales up, Torres (linked with Aston Villa) then killed them off with the goal of the tournament and it was all over. But it is the referees and their fellow conspirators who will decide who wins the cup.
Looking at Crouchie's bit of hair-pulling, which enabled England to squeeze past an heroic T&T side, it seems very much as if England have at long last learnt how to cheat properly (i.e. get away with it) but I seem to remember Mr Beanstalk, cheated a penalty at Villa Park, for Liverpool, so the lad's obviously got a talent for it. I noticed Joe Cole was feigning injury in the first game, so he could get a drink and so there is hope for them yet. Still, I think the Germans are better and the way Klose got the Pole sent off, which turned the game for the Deutschlanders, was total class. But what was amazing about the two games is that the tactical change which got both Germany and England through were identical - they both bought on right-sided wingers late in the game and both contributed to the decisive goals.
Possibly as a result of getting a bit too much sun, I found myself admiring the Germans and the distribution of Ballack and the neat play of Lahm, are of the highest order.
But even so, I can't see our German friends winning it, freak refereeing decisions notwithstanding, and England look like a team picked by the papers (as ever) and in an effort to include everyone, there is just no balance with Lampard and Gerrard tripping over each other, while leaving the defence exposed. How we have the nerve to take the piss out of thirdworld goalkeepers who come flapping for crosses, is a bit of a mystery, after the latest exhibition by Robinson. But gladly, the England players look like they will just do enough to bring home a bit of pride, and players like Terry, who has been superb, have actually looked world-class - a rather over-used appellation in the Premiership.
Sorry to say, as long as England have holes in their arses and their are teams like Argentina in the competition they ain't going to win it.
But while it's still possible to pretend, there is still a spark of hope within me which refuses to be extinguished.