“Jeez, you’re home early”
Four years ago, Italy and France contested the final. Now, already both teams are out of the competition and looking at major rebuilding jobs over the next few years. After losing on penalties last time around, at least France can say they beat Italy to a title this time, easily winning the award for ‘most embarrassing exit’. It’s not a surprise that two of the ‘big boys’ have been knocked out so early, it’s the chaotic nature of their exits that has shocked football.
In 2006, two players played key roles. Italy’s Fabio Cannavaro was easily the best defender in the tournament and Zinedine Zidane rolled back the years to steer Les Bleus to the final. Zidane’s night and career ended slightly prematurely thanks to a badly placed header but he retired while still performing at his best. Cannavaro chose to play on and was hoping to become the first captain in WC history to successfully defend the title. Zidane knew his time had come, Cannavaro’s had too but only now will he accept that.
The last round of group games has so far provided the now-expected shocks and yet more brave performances from some of the smaller nations. Indeed, Slovakia and South Africa’s victories both had an inevitable feel to them. No doubt South African fans will continue to enjoy the WC party but the players will regret not pushing for the victory against the French. On reflection, they showed them way too much respect and that eventually cost them a place in the knockout stages. New Zealand deserve a special mention for punching way above their weight and heading home unbeaten but I felt they could have gone for broke against a Paraguay. A goal would have took them through and sent the bank-holiday seeking nation bonkers. Could Chile produce one last major shock and send Spain crashing to their standard (pre 2008) disappointingly early exit?
On the England front, it’s been a week of two halves. The inept and dismal display against the Algerians had fans fearing the worst. However, I feel they exorcised the demons to some degree against Slovenia. Faced with incredible pressure, they produced a determined performance full of positives and the team will be better for that experience. Not for the first time, America are playing a major role in our affairs. This time, it’s the inconvenient timing of their goals. I mentioned last week that it was the timing rather than the nature of their goal against us that troubled us. Then they go out and snatch an injury time score (winner) in their match-up (game) against Algeria, to secure a more manageable passage to the semi-finals.
It’s Germany up next for us and while I thought people went overboard in their praise for them after their hammering of Australia, it’s still Germany. They’re a useful and creative side who will undoubtedly cause us some problems. That said, I’m positive that the manner of our win against Slovenia will have galvanised the team and if we improve another level we can beat the old enemy without the use of penalties. I was not alone in beginning to doubt Mr Capello but he got a passionate performance from the players and they produced enough chances to win any game.
In a world of English tat made in China, I’ve come up with a fashionable idea to make some beer money. First you need to grab a batch of plain t-shirts and book a stall for Sunday. Stamp ‘Fabio Says Relax’ across the front and you’re on to a winner for sure. Talking of tat, forget Vuvuzela’s. The most annoying part if the WC for me is multiple, creased, off-white flags hanging from houses, front and back. Don’t get me wrong, I like a flag on my car and one in the window on a match day. But is there any need to make your house or car look like an impulse buy from Sports Direct?
In the words of Fabio, “stay forkussed”
Come on England!