World Cup Watch (4)
By Steve Wade
Still on the World Cup couch but as the competition moved into the knock-out stage; things, I found, got a little more intense. Even from an horizontal position, discomfort reigned. And, during a certain England game, I felt like Alex in Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, as my eyes were dutifully clamped open, and I was forced to watch horror images, while feeling slightly sick. Comfort-food was de rigueur.
Halfway through the weekend I was forced to upgrade my ice-cream brand, after discovering the perils of supine Magnum-eating: chocolate spatter. So rather than face the indignity of looking like I had encountered a fresh dog-turd with a garden strimmer, I went all Haagen-Dazs (affectionately known as Nena). A rather expensive date, I found, and actually not that good - too sweet - portion-control is a nightmare. So until Good Housekeeping Magazine, does an ice-cream special-edition, I will have to temporarily revert to chocolate Cornettos, with their predictable, yet manageable problem, of nut-shrapnel, joining the blue fluff in the navel.
I was feeling doubly-sick on Saturday as my heavy date with Nena caught up with me and I watched the Germans stroll to an easy win against Sweden - the
green-eyed monster gnawed at my English soul. Two-nil up, a Swede sent-off and they could play. Previously admired Swede, turned into a turnip. By early evening, I felt as mocked as an Austin Allegro parked next to a VW Golf. Stuff the comfort-food, I needed booze and lots of it. But all I had was cheese - woe was me.
The England team were not about to send in the SAS to rescue my feelings from my German hostages, as I found out on Sunday. As I remembered it later, it was like watching a new game on an old computer, and the frame-rate dropped to a crawl, even Ashley Cole's desperate rescuing-sprint, which kept the score at nil-nil, seemed to happen in slow-mo but perhaps it was a Steve Austin moment and I wasn't seeing it in real time. Robinson had his comic interlude when he mistook Ferdinand's head for the ball, or perhaps he was trying to get a bit of gel on his gloves to improve his grip on that slippery German sphere. Frank Lampard kept passing the ball back to their goalie.
England, it seems, were trying to play in little triangles but had yet to discover the hypotenuse. Too many close-ups of Rooney seemed to show that if he'd enrolled for handsome lessons, he'd missed a few classes. It was England's Johnny Vegas, compared to Germany's David Hasselhoff (yeah, I know he's an American but he's still a German idol, innit). Suddenly the sulky 'not fair' which I had been muttering since Germany's tour de force, began to seem a bit daft. The new BMW 5-series might not be as good as the old one but it is still a good car. An Austin Maxi, is still an Austin Maxi. A Rover 25 was never going to be a BMW. It was the
Millennium Dome, versus the new Reichstag. Kraftwerk versus Gary Numan. But just as I was composing a letter to Mr Blair, suggesting we all should get a plane, so we could leave the country too; David Beckham, in between bouts of projectile-vomiting (his not mine), looped a free-kick in at the near-post. Things began to look better.
Subsequent viewing of the other matches in the same round, acted as a strong reminder that there is a lot to be said for just getting through, whether you are Johnny Vegas or the handsome Hoff (read those Amazon reviews); a feeling which reached some kind of peak, when I changed channels, from a lovely programme about allotment-keeping in Edgabaston (The Guinea Fields), to watch the kind of score-bore that makes sensory-deprivation seem like a fairground-ride. Blessed, the cheese-makers maybe, but they didn't go through. Instead, their kit looking as yellow as a Chernobyl sunset, Ukraine won it by missing slightly fewer penalties than the Swiss. Elsewhere, better teams than England went out, so better a live Johnny Vee, than a dead Pisselhoff, I consoled myself.
As you might expect, if you live on a diet of ice-cream and cheese, you are likely to look more like Johnny Vegas than Darren Happeltoss, and I fear, in that at least, I am a fair representative of my nation. Sometimes you have to live with the truth and accept that handsome might be better than ugly but if you are ugly, it might be wise to learn to live with it. Life, it seems, is just not fair
Football, I noticed, from my World Cup immersion, is not going to challenge that assumption either. In fact, it seems that the best teams and the best players, are those who are not only better at football, but are also, within FIFA's latest moral strictures, rather better at cheating too. And, it has been the mark of many of the outsiders, particularly the Africans, that when it comes to cheating they lack the subtlety of many of their more sophisticated rivals. England, over the years, have a very patchy record: Linekar's penalties against Cameroon - outstanding; Gazza's German booking; Beckham getting sent-off - pathetic. Owen's penalty against the
Argies; Crouch's hair-pulling against T&T - excellent.
If England are to get anywhere near to winning the trophy, it is a side of their game they need to focus on. Figo's outstanding piece of work, which got Boulahrouz sent-off, was world-class and let us not forget, he was once considered the best player in the world. Henry's for France against Spain, might have been equally effective, but the fact that it was easily detected by the cameras, suggested he is not quite ready for that step up in class. The Latins might lead the way in this area of the game but I still consider the Germans, right up there with the best and certainly Klose is a huge talent. I think the Italians might surprise a few people too.
But whether we are Johnny Vegas ugly or we are to be perfidious Albion; whatever it takes, let's make it into the semi-finals.
Now where's that box of Cornettos?