Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How the mighty have fallen

The first footballing giant has fallen at the 2010 World Cup, with a long queue of others ready to follow. The French, after a pathetic campaign resulting in zero wins from three games, are heading back to Paris. A revolutionary horde waits. Despite their ongoing issues with team chemistry during qualifying, I honestly thought their talent and depth would be enough to get them through a challenging, but by no means frightening, group. Instead they produced a brainfart of epic proportions. Viva Les Bleus!!! Their golden generation has past their used by date, with heroes from the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship winning teams ready to be retired to make way for fresher legs. Coach Domenech should also step aside, lest he be treated in a similar manner as the Marquis De Sade - incarcerated for 32 years of his life in an insane asylum.

Congratulations to Uruguay and Mexico on qualifying for the second round ...remember that I tipped Uruguay as a semi final sleeper (you heard it here first). As predicted in ‘An Idiot’s Guide to the World Cup – Part 1’ both Argentina and South Korea have also progressed to the final 16. Nice to know I can get them right sometimes.

Two groups completed, one past champion eliminated, and no European or African teams in round two. A sign of things to come? Let’s take a look at some of the more intriguing storylines for the remainder of the group phase.

1. Who wants to be a champion? After a fairly low profile start to the tournament, a mix of insipid displays (see Italy & England) and inspiring performances (see Switzerland & New Zealand) have left some very big names teetering on a knifes edge. With France already racking up their frequent flyer points, Italy, England and Germany could well follow in their footsteps. Let’s break this down further:

a. Italy. Two draws (how very Italian) built on very dreary defensive football sees the Italians facing Slovakia needing a win to progress. Another dull draw simply will not be enough. Italy has both the players and the pedigree, but what they seriously lack is form. Should Slovakia decide to sit back and spoil the contest, an Italian forward line that created nothing against New Zealand, will be looking for divine inspiration.
b. England. Their plight mirrors that of the Italians. A Grade C performance against the under-rated USA was followed by an F minus versus Algeria. Two draws, no cohesion on the field and less cohesion off it. Should England produce another abject performance in their final group match against the surprising Slovenia...it will well and truly be their final match. Slovenia is definitely beatable, but they also have the capacity to upset. After all, they did knock out Guus Hiddink’s highly fancied Russian’s in qualification. The rabid English tabloids are on stand by. Should England lose, Capello will be featured as the devil incarnate with poster boys Rooney, Gerrard, Lampard and Terry derided as bumbling fools. On the other hand, an England win and (according to the Sun and Mirror) they will be cup favourites again.
c. Germany. After steamrolling through Australia 4-0 in their first game, it looked as though this would be another walk in the park for Ze Germans. Then the Serbs rocked up and stole their mojo. Now Germany faces Ghana knowing a win will guarantee progression, a draw could be enough and a loss will result in a collapse of embarrassing proportions. The Ghanaians’ will be motivated to top the group, so a win is by no means certain. And if Serbia continues their improvement by dispatching Australia, a draw won’t do either. Interesting times. On a more political note, looking at the 2010 German World Cup team and it’s fair to say that Germany well and truly lost the last world war. A team featuring Khaderi, Ozil, Podolski, Klose, Tasci, Cacau, Marin, Gomez etc. would have Mein Fuehrer rolling in his grave.

2. Crossing paths. Switzerland’s amazing 1-0 victory over Spain leaves the Spanish needing only a draw against Chile to qualify. However, sitting in second place will pit them against either Brazil or Portugal (the former most likely) in the second round. One of these three giants faces early elimination, with the mouth watering prospect of a Spain versus Brazil round of 16 clash a distinct possibility. It’s very likely that one of the pre tournament favourites will be watching from a distance a week from now...on high definition 3D no doubt.

3. The definition of Infarkt. Anyone who sat through the Serbia v. Germany match would have been entertained by a spectacle that defined Infarkt (at least in sporting terms). The game had more pendulum swings than...I was going to say a swinging pendulum, but that’s too obvious...you know what I mean. From multiple yellow cards, to the Klose sending off, to Serbia’s goal, to Khaderi smashing the crossbar, to Germany’s ten men overrunning the Serbs the entire second half, to Vidic’s handball giving away (another) penalty, to Podolski’s poor spot kick and Stojkovic’s save, to the 7ft 6 inch giant Zigic missing a point blank header when marked by the vertically challenged Lahm...this game had it all. Anyone with a vested interest in this game would have experienced major and minor infarctions throughout the 90 minutes.

4. Memo. Speaking of giving away another penalty, The Dark Knight sent me the following SMS after Vidic’s brain explosion: URGENT MEMO. To all Serbian players. Touching the ball with your hand in the penalty area is not good, it’s bad. Please tell the bloke to your left and right.

5. Before you blow. Those damned vuvuzela’s have been making more noise (boom, tish) than the action on the park. Before you wet your lips to let out another annoying spurt of wasp like sound, think about what the vuvuzela was originally used for.

6. Don’t forget the hype: For the past six months all Australian eyes have been on Harry Kewell’s groin. Not because of his underwear line at Politix, but to monitor his readiness for South Africa. Considered Australia’s attacking X-factor, it has been widely considered that if Kewell isn’t on the plane, then the Socceroos will be returning home with little more than a recipe for Boerewors (a traditional South Africa sausage, very tasty. Click here for a recipe). Kewell was declared fit to play, got on the plane, and was subsequently kept wrapped in cotton wool during Australia’s lead up games. Against Germany he again rode the pine, as Coach Verbeek made some mystifying decisions around his tactics and starting line-up. Kewell was finally selected to face Ghana, and spent most of the opening 15 minutes trying to imitate Geoff Toovey (FYI – a Google search ‘Geoff Toovey whinger’ returned over 8,000 results). Then Kewell was sent off. Was it deliberate handball? Who knows. At the end of the day, when you’re on the goal line you do your best to block the ball. If any part of your hand is used to save a certain goal, then a penalty and handball have to result. I digress. What has interested me most about Kewell’s World Cup saga has been the tit-for-tat with Sydney Morning Herald writer Michael Cockerill (see below). Highly entertaining stuff, and nice to see these professionals not get personal. I can’t see these guys sending each other Christmas cards in December, well Bernie might...then charge it back to Harry as a consultancy fee.

Sticks and stone...but names will never hurt me
Cockerill calls out Kewell
Kewell calls out Cockerill
Cockerill responds
Mandic responds
Cockerill, Kewell and Mandic in wild sex romp...just kidding

7. Torn apart. 4.30 am, AEST. Australia versus Serbia. Cahill versus Krasic. The homeland versus the motherland. Chiko Rolls versus Cevapcici. VB (Victoria Bitter) versus PB (Plum Brandy). Jimmy Barnes versus Bora Corba. Advance Australia Fair versus Boze Pravde. Thongs versus Opanke. Gallipoli versus Kosovo. Mark 'Chopper' Read versus Zeljko Raznatovic 'Arkan'. This match has it all. I’m more confused than a 12 year old boy at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. Should I be excited or terrified??? I’ll tell you now...there’ll be a few VB’s and PB’s tomorrow morning, which will either add to my confusion or perhaps create a moment of clarity.

8. How many Irishmen does it take to change a light bulb? Because the sporting world doesn’t stop just because a World Cup is being played (although maybe it should) I’m going to throw in my two cents worth with relation to the Andrew Johns, Timana Tahu soap opera.

While I don't begrudge Tahu for standing up for his beliefs, and applaud him for having the courage to take a stand...I do believe this whole racism in the NRL issue has been blown way out of proportion.

Would ‘T’ have walked out if, at a team bonding session, they were watching a Chris Rock stand up comedy video? Inappropriate, stereotypical and racist dialogue would be booming out of the TV, but I'm sure all players, Tahu included, would be laughing their arses off. Some examples of Rock's humour include:

• But when you hear "Barack Obama", you picture a brother with a spear, just standing over a dead lion.
• What is up with Jermaine Jackson? Is it just me or is he the greasiest nigga you ever seen? Just greasy motherfucker looking like he sprayed Armoral on his face!

What if one of the players was playing rap on their iPod, and Tahu heard the word n#gger used in a song over and over again. Would he walk out on the team then because one of the players thought this was entertaining?

While I'm not condoning what Andrew Johns said, his words should be taken into context. From what the media has reported he used offensive language when talking about a number of indigenous players (the best one's mind you) on the Queensland team. He was also self deprecating, referring to himself as ‘white trash from Cessnock’ (aren’t they all???). This suggests he was trying to be humorous (he obviously failed), and was also trying to create an 'us' against them' mentality...which is what Origin is all about.

What also irks me about this issue is that Johns is a former drug user. What sort of a role model is that to start off with? It’s ok to admit you used to get high, but please don’t use offensive language about skin colour.

The way the media jumps on the bandwagon to stir up a story is fascinating, and it suggests that the concept of State of Origin alone isn't strong enough to carry a story. Pulling in the Anthony Mundine's of the world to make comment only inflames the situation. Mundine used to claim that racism in league is rife, and his non selection for representative teams was an example of this. To this I reply that you just weren’t good enough bro. The fact that names including Beetson, Meninga, Daley, Thurston, Inglis, Hayne, Thaiday, Civoniceva, Idris, Tonga are all associated with State of Origin blows your theory out of the sky.

Hypothetical: If John's got up and told an Irish joke...would Luke O'Donnell be right to walk out on the team???

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