THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Relive four weeks of statements of the obvious from the pundits, daily complaints about the wobbly ball and over-emphatic pronunciations of Brazilian names

June 11
South Africa 1 Mexico 1
“It’s in Africa where humanity began and it is to Africa humanity now returns,” says Peter Drury who you feel would be available for film trailer voiceover work when it’s quieter next summer. Mexico dominate and have a goal disallowed when the flapping Itumeleng Khune inadvertently plays Carlos Vela offside. ITV establish that it was the right decision: “Where’s that linesman from, that football hotbed Uzbekistan?” asks Gareth Southgate who had previously seemed like a nice man. "What a moment in the history of sport... A goal for all Africa,” says Drury after Siphiwe Tshabalala crashes in the opener. We cut to Tshbalala’s home township – “they’ve only just got electricity” – where the game is being watched on a big screen which Jim Beglin thinks is a sheet. Cuauhtémoc Blanco looks about as athletic as a crab but nonetheless has a role in Mexico’s goal, his badly mishit pass being crossed for Rafael Márquez to score thanks to a woeful lack of marking. The hosts nearly get an undeserved winner a minute from time when Katlego Mphela hits the post. Óscar Pérez is described as “a personality goalkeeper” as if that is a tactical term like an attacking midfielder. Drury says “Bafana Bafana” so often it’s like he’s doing a Red Nose event where he earns a pound for an irrigation scheme in the Sudan every time he manages to fit it in.

France 0 Uruguay 0
A right old stinker. ITV appear to have cut their losses with the BBC showing this match, countering with a repeat of Dickinson’s Real Deal. The viewing figures taken after the first 20 minutes of this particular game will have falsely suggested that the gurning antiques groper is a real crowd-puller. With the exception of the bustling Abou Diaby, “le wardrobe”, France are terrible, lethargic and shapeless, while the Uruguayan defence has a lower-division look to it, with panicky clearances often sliced straight up in the air. Uruguay’s front pairing of Diego Forlán and Luis Suárez is described by Mark Lawrenson as “far too narrow”, yet at half-time Alan Hansen claims that they are “too far apart” and produces a graphic that shows an 18-metre gap. Sadly, he doesn’t say what size gap is acceptable. Raymond Domenech takes an age to make any substitutions at all and the dismal Sidney Govou is only the final player taken off. Nicolás Lodeiro holds his head in his hands after being the first player to be red-carded after a second yellow for one rustic challenge too many. Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker revel in a reply of Thierry Henry vainly appealing for handball when his shot seemed to strike Mauricio Victorino’s arm.

June 12
South Korea 2 Greece 0
“We’ll let you know when Greece start their World Cup,” says Drury at half-time with Korea comfortably ahead from Lee Jung-Soo’s flick in at a free-kick. “Who’s marking him? The answer’s nobody!” The Koreans are much more purposeful yet the lethargic Greeks are sweating more. Otto Rehhagel is oddly unanimated on the sidelines although at 71 he may be glad of a long sit-down. Greece are marginally better in the second half with a couple of chances for Theofanis Gekas, who is their best player by far, but Jung Sung-Ryong doesn’t make a save until the 80th minute. “No facet of their game has worked,” says Craig Burley, who joins Drury in taking swipes at Greece’s European victory six years ago – “No guile today” “They didn’t have any in 2004” – which seems destined to annoy several of our commentators for the remainder of their careers.

Argentina 1 Nigeria 0
Gabriel Heinze is “the Manchester United player... from some time ago” when he scores the only goal from a sixth-minute header. You always feel Mick McCarthy would be happier on the allotment with his pigeons and a tin of creosote and he doesn’t seem to have bothered with any research today. “When I saw your teamsheet I had to ask if it was the same J Veron,” he says after Jonathan Pearce explains how the midfielder revived his career after returning home. The man Pearce likes to refer to as Diego Armando Maradona spends much of the game in animated conversation with the fourth official and the commentator is driven to censorious fury when he is seen making card-waving gestures. Nigeria’s coaching staff look like hospital orderlies in their green uniforms. Emmanuel Adebayor has taken to his new punditry role like a cat to water. Talking far too fast while leaning forward earnestly in his best suit, he appears to be treating the experience like a job interview. He may not stay around long enough to settle into the lounging-back-with-arm-dangling-behind-the-chair-and-top-button-undone insouciance of a Hansen. At the close we get the least tempting offer of the World Cup so far: “Stay with us and you can hear from Frank Lampard and Ray Winstone.”

England 1 USA 1
ITV have made Adrian Chiles feel right at home by turning the pre-match coverage into a One Show for football people. Traditional punditry business was interrupted by an educational-but-fun film about Rorke’s Drift, footage of the North Korean squad watching a lion play bad-temperedly with a football and an inconsequential vox-pop in a Johannesburg bar. The only thing it lacked was Christine Bleakley laughing at everything anyone said. England’s World Cup highlight comes early, Steven Gerrard running on to a reverse pass by Emile Heskey after four minutes. With pinpoint ineptitude, ITV’s HD channel is showing an advert when this happens. “I hope you all caught the start!” says Clive Tyldesley. The gaunt Bob Bradley, who looks like a visitor from the future where people survive on one tiny pill per day, winces when Jozy Altidore’s feeble header drifts wide while Landon Donovan and Oguchi Onyewu also go close. Then the US score from their weakest attempt on goal with Rob Green spilling Clint Dempsey’s tame 30-yarder over the line, after which there’s a distinct absence of team-mates going up to console him. If FIFA receive a barrage of complaints about the vuvuzelas again today it will be because that they’re not loud enough – the gormless parping of the England supporters’ band keeps breaking through. In the second half, Heskey shoots tamely at Tim Howard who then pushes away one of Lampard’s camera-friendly piledrivers – another goes hopelessly over. Jamie Carragher, a half-time sub for Ledley King, is lucky to avoid a second booking for blocking Robbie Findley while Green’s stop from Altidore is praised by the panel – “Good save!” – in the manner of parents on toilet training duty. Mostly, though, it’s the same nervous and disjointed England that has turned out at every match since qualification. 
 
June 13
Algeria 0 Slovenia 1
“Our knowledge of these teams is limited,” Shearer says in the build-up while neglecting to add: “But that’s only because I decided to work on my putting stroke instead of watching those DVDs.” An especially poor first half is littered with overhit passes and basic miscontrol. “Oh, thank you,” says Mark Bright as the time-added board shows one minute. But the BBC’s team had written this one off beforehand and make no effort to explain why the match is shaping up this way. Shearer laughingly dismisses both teams while saying that England will have no difficulty qualifying, while Clarence Seedorf makes a reasonable point that cautious, well-organised teams are difficult opponents if you don’t score an early goal.
Algeria’s substitute Abdelkader Ghezzal is their most effective player but it’s only a short cameo as he gets two yellows inside 15 minutes. The Algerian fan perched precariously on a floodlight is coaxed down before Slovenia score the only goal, Robert Koren’s gentle shot bouncing over the arm of Faouzi Chaouchi whose peroxided hair and purple top give him the appearance of someone who might turn up singing the Eurovision entry of a former Yugoslav republic.

Ghana 1 Serbia 0
“The striker Zigic has just signed for Birmingham City, so he’ll be good,” says Tyldesley of a player who’s been in La Liga for four years. He’s lucky not to be sent off for accumulated fouls; when team-mate Aleksandar Lukovic is finally dismissed Tyldesley wrongly senses a referring cock-up. “I have to say that I don’t recall the first yellow,” but grudgingly acknowledges later that he’d not noticed it. Summariser Chris Coleman sounds like he’s having a restless sleep, wakening occasionally to shout: “At least it hit the target!” Serbia have more chances but they’re also quite ponderous. André Ayew and Asamoah Gyan, who hits a post twice, are outstanding for Ghana. Kevin-Prince Boateng makes do with just “Prince” on his shirt.“Tells you what he thinks of himself,” says Tyldesley as though remembering a frosty encounter in the mixed zone. After Zdravko Kuzmanovic has swatted the ball away for the decisive penalty, he has the nerve to protest vehemently though clearly a handball. Ghanaian fans parade along the front of the stands with “Feel It! Ghana is Here!” written on a flattened cardboard box. There’s a curious cameo at the end as the winning coach, Milovan Rajevac, shrugs off congratulatory hugs and stalks away, possibly to commiserate with fellow Serbs.

Germany 4 Australia 0
“If Australia are not careful they’ll be following on,” says Drury as Germany put on the best display of teamwork at the World Cup so far. Mesut Ozil directs play, apparently from his personal foxhole within the two banks of four we hear so much about. Australia’s wonky offside trap would embarrass a Sunday league team. A very frazzled Lucas Neill spends the day stomping about, yelling at team-mates and getting away with clumsy fouls. Tim Cahill’s sliding knee into Bastian Schweinsteiger’s leg produces a harsh red from an overly fussy Spanish referee, the evil twin of Gomez Adams, who set about dishing out cards early on. Jogi Löw and his staff are looking very Miami Vice in a dark jacket and blue T-shirt combination. Miroslav Klose has a very narrow head and is as unnaturally pallid as ever. “Four players of Polish origin in this German team,” says Drury as if he suspects it might be cheating. Edgar Davids’ tactical explanations are so incomprehensible he seems to be speaking the ancient tongue of a lost civilisation. 
 
June 14
Holland 2 Denmark 0
Drury senses that history is on Holland’s side: “Three hundred years after arriving in South Africa, the Dutch are back, hoping to conquer again.” “Intriguing is the adjective we’ll be using,” says Chiles carefully after a soporific first half. Simon Poulsen squints in embarrassment after his own goal puts the Dutch one up and is chided for it by Burley: “It’s not something to laugh about." Meanwhile, Denmark’s centre-forward is mocked by Drury: “This is a chance for Nicklas Bendtner to prove that he is as brilliant as he tells everyone he is.” But his side create nothing once he’s substituted. The Dutch are livened considerably by substitutes Eljero Elia and Ibrahim Afellay, while “Liverpool’s Mr Reliable”, Dirk Kuyt, scores the second. We get a rare sighting of Michel Platini stood at top of a staircase looking disgruntled, as though his friends had said they were going to the toilet then left without him.

Cameroon 0 Japan 1
A bad day for the Beeb begins with a gormless preamble in which we learn that there used to be samurais in Japan while Cameroon is a hot country with lions. Then Adebayor’s mobile rings twice during the pre-match chat, a welcome diversion for the panel who can’t disguise their lack of interest. “You’ll be sick if you’ve missed anything,” says Guy Mowbray. “Yeah, like your tea,” says Lawrenson as half an hour passes without a shot. It’s no surprise that two teams in poor form should be looking to avoid defeat in their first match. Instead they’re sneered at for not joining in the World Cup party. When Japan finally do score, we get “Where did that come from?” rather than an acknowledgement of the good cross from Daisuke Matsui. Cameroon get chances for Maxim Choupo-Moting and Achille Emana, whose shot hits the bar with five minutes to go, while Samuel Eto’o mostly watches proceedings from out on the wing. Benoît Assou-Ekotto’s shorts are so low-slung we can see his leopardskin pants. Japan’s victory is celebrated by a group of fans in white plastic costumes resembling the giant Tic Tacs from the ad that interrupted ITV’s live FA Cup coverage last year.

Italy 1 Paraguay 1
The Italian team’s word-perfect and harmonically erratic rendition of their national anthem will have endeared them to the type of people who vote for pre-school child vocalists on Britain’s Got Talent. For their part, the Paraguayans fooled everyone with a long instrumental introduction before suddenly, in the last few bars, bursting into song like a group of men who have just seen someone throw an empty into their garden. An hour or so into the game and the unremitting one-note drone is starting to become unbearable. But if McCarthy feels it necessary to lugubriously repeat his belief that Italy are better since changing to 4-4-2, it’s probably just as well we hear him out. He seems to be greatly enjoying a grinding match played out in a downpour. Paraguay’s coach, Gerardo Martino, celebrates the opening goal by waving a hand in the air like someone calling for the bill in a restaurant.
In the Perspex dugout, Marcello Lippi surveys the scene with his hand over his eyes like an OAP in a bus shelter scanning the road for the number 97. Daniele De Rossi, whose poor positioning at a free-kick was a main cause of the Paraguayan goal, equalises after Justo Villar flaps hopelessly at a corner. Afterwards the panel, including Seedorf of AC Milan, can’t remember the name of the Italian substitute Antonio Di Natale, top scorer in Serie A last season.

June 15
New Zealand 1 Slovakia 1
“Press the red button for Chris Moyles and Comedy Dave,” says Lineker. Or you could just slap yourself in the face for two hours. Someone at the BBC must have had a word about the pundits’ general tone, though. “We were negative for the Algeria game, but we’re going to be positive for this one. I expect goals,” says Hansen. New Zealand look better for the first 20 minutes as Slovak passes are constantly overhit. “You just feel it’s a case of when Slovakia start to play their football,” says Martin Keown who fills us in on his working day – up at seven, not in bed till midnight apparently. During the many gaps in the action we get far too many slow-mo replays of players heading the ball, a distressing sight when it’s Ryan Nelsen with his immense Cro-Magnon jaw. Not much time for chat at the break as we need to hear the World Cup memories of punk-rock Noel Gallagher. Robert Vittek’s header seems to have won it for Slovakia, especially when Shane Smeltz heads over with three minutes left. But in the third minute of stoppage time a great cross from Smeltz is nodded in by Winston Reid and Vladimir Weiss slumps back in his pinstripe suit like a City trader on hearing that zinc has gone through the floor.

Ivory Coast 0 Portugal 0
The first match to receive a big build-up degenerates into an ankle-tapping contest. Cristiano Ronaldo’s dipping shot that pings off the post after nine minutes is only the second long-range effort on target in the tournament so far. That’s about all we get though. Shortly afterwards Ronaldo is booked after squaring up to the Ivorian player who had clattered him, and who is clearly told to fuck off. Wearing a white coat over his suit, Sven-Göran Eriksson looks like a nuclear powerplant technician. “Chelsea for Chelsea!” says Drury as Salomon Kalou is replaced by the convalescing Didier Drogba who isn’t able to get involved. Portugal’s change kit is the best so far. The Ivory Coast physio is a zealot for the magic spray, great clouds of which are stirred up whenever he attends to an injured leg.

Brazil 2 North Korea 1
As the teams troop out Tyldesley gamely tries to balance North Korea’s underdog status and giantkilling feats of 1966 with the regime’s alarming human rights record. It wasn’t the regime, Clive continues, who had fought through the qualifying stage and turned up to play football tonight. And, by extension, it isn’t the North Korean team who detain anyone critical of them, control the nation’s media or sink a South Korean naval ship. Then Jong Tae-Se starts crying rather sweetly during the national anthem and we can all forget about the complex ethical and humanitarian issues for a bit. As ever, Brazilian names are yelled as though they’re just about to score but there’s little sign of that in the first half thanks to the North Koreans’ diligent defending. Dunga is dressed as a tugboat captain – “wearing a stupid coat” as Chiles put it – while the North Korean coach favours the shortie mac associated with driving instructors in 1970s sitcoms. No one can agree whether Maicon intended to score when his swerving shot beats Ri Myong-Guk at his near post, then Elano gets a fine second from Robinho’s pass. Jong might have scored but for good tackle by Juan and he also blasts off a couple of wild shots from distance. North Korea’s 89th-minute goal, smartly banged in by Ji Yun‑Nam, sets Tyldesley off on another riff about Ayresome Park in 1966.

June 16
Chile 1 Honduras 0
“Chile hot, Honduras not,” says Jon Champion. The Chileans should have racked up a much bigger score against opponents who seem to be either playing for Wigan or about to sign for them. Alexis Sánchez, “the go-to man for Chile”, is outstanding in bombing about like a primary school kid who’s had too much Sunny Delight. The winning goal, Chile’s first at a World Cup since 1962, comes when the ball is kicked on to the scorer Jean Beausejour by a lunging defender. Burley sounds more like a rugby commentator in his purring admiration for the Honduran central defender Osman Chavez: “He’s a big unit – if he says it’s Friday, I’d agree with him.” He’s less taken with the referee, Eddy Maillet from the Seychelles, who fails to give Chile a penalty for handball in the first half and then rightly refuses to blow for a good tackle on the edge of the Chilean area in the second. “I’ve said after five minutes the referee is not up to it and I stand by my words,” says Burley with the defiant tone of someone prepared to be locked up for his views. Honduras then bring on the player with the best name at the World Cup – Georgie Welcome.

Spain 0 Switzerland 1 
Another one-sided 1-0 win but with the dominant team losing. “Howard Webb magnificently in position,” says Pearce as England’s number one rejects a Spanish penalty appeal when David Silva is brought down on the quarter-hour. In the ninth goalless first half so far, Spain are restricted to only two chances for Gerard Piqué and David Villa – the latter greeted by Pearce’s dying fall in anticipation of a goal: “Villa for Spaainnn..." Philippe Senderos goes off after getting injured while clattering into a team-mate. The Swiss score a magnificently shambolic goal as a long pump down the middle rebounds a couple of times before being put away by Gelson Fernandes. “There’s more than one way to skin a cat,” says McCarthy almost smacking his lips. Xabi Alonso hits the bar and other chances fall to Andrés Iniesta, Jesús Navas and Fernando Torres, who looks about to cry as he comes on, but the resolute Swiss hold out. Though it’s hardly “one of the great world Cup upsets” as Pearce claims. A Spanish fan flips a finger at the camera after seeing himself on the big screen. Well, it’s better than a wave. 
 
South Africa 0 Uruguay 3
Asked for a comment about apartheid following a pre-match filmed segment, Hansen offers: “That system was obviously fundamentally flawed.” Wasn’t it, though? “He’s running this game – he could play in his slippers,” says Lawrenson of Forlán shortly before he puts Uruguay ahead with a dipping shot that deflects off Aaron Mokoena. “Man Utd fans will wonder if it’s the same Forlán,” says Mowbray. Pundits are rarely able to digest the fact that a relative flop in the Premier League could succeed elsewhere. Óscar Tabárez looks like a suave but cruel aristocrat from a Hammer horror. Suárez has a mouthful of cotton wool after getting banged in face; later his shouts of indignation on not getting a penalty are hampered by the wad clamped between his teeth. There are shots of home fans streaming away after Forlán’s penalty makes it 2-0 with the home keeper Khune also sent off. After crossing for the third goal, Suárez kneels down and waits for team-mates to rush over but the scorer Álvaro Pereira stops short of him and starts a dance which Suárez has to get up to join.

June 17
Argentina 4 South Korea 1
“Like Notts County on a Wednesday evening in November. It is properly cold,” says Drury. The commentators have decided that this will be about Lionel Messi and 21 others. Beglin: “It’s just a privilege to watch this fellow play. I’m not taking sides...” Drury cuts in: “I am.” When a Korean is booked for tackling Messi, Beglin chimes in with: “The ref’s saying if you’re going to do that to the best player in the world, I’m not going have it.” Nothing clever in Argentina’s opener which bounces in off Park Chu-Young’s shin. Maradona joins in the group hug on the touchline but has difficulty reaching up like a toddler trying to get involved in an older kids’ game. Gonzalo Higuaín’s glancing header makes it 2-0 and he gets another two for a fairly soft hat-trick. Messi has one outstanding moment, shooting wide after a jinking run: “He just hints at a swing of hips and the whole world buys it.” On half-time the dawdling Martín Demichelis is robbed by Lee Chung-Yong who makes it 2-1. “Catastrophe!” says Drury, though the Koreans don’t apologise for their temerity. Indeed, if Yeom Ki-Hun had finished off their best move ten minutes into the second half they’d have drawn level. Argentina “look like they’re oozing goals” but their defence has yet to be properly tested.

Greece 2 Nigeria 1
Hansen ladles on the disdain again at half-time: “After 90 seconds we said this might be a minger. After five minutes, we thought we might lose the picture, I said ‘good’.” Happily, Alan is rewarded for sticking around by an eventful half. Greece look shambolic again, a Kalu Uche free-kick sailing straight in with Alexandros Tzorvas stuck on the line. Then Sani Kaita makes his one contribution to the tournament, needlessly raising a foot towards Konstantinos Katsouranis in a dispute over a throw-in. With his shirt pulled over his face he takes a long time to trudge off, possibly because he can’t see. Greece perk up, a shot from Georgios Samaras, who has exceptionally silky hair, being cleared off the line, before Dimitris Salpingidis equalises. Nigeria get into a huddle at the half-time whistle with Vincent Enyeama crouching in the middle saying a prayer, which may be that they will go in to find coach Lars Lagerback has been transformed into Mourinho or Van Gaal. Later, Taye Taiwo is taken off with a problem to what Keown identifies as his “left groin” but then his own replacement has to be subbed with 15 minutes to go as though he hadn’t warmed up properly. Nigeria are close to regaining the lead after one of the best passages of play in the World Cup so far – a fast break upfield after Enyeama makes a point blank save from Gekas. Yakubu’s shot is saved then Chinedu Obasi pokes the rebound horribly wide. The game is decided when Enyeama, who had played well, pushes a free-kick into Vasilis Torosidis’s path. “The Jabulani strikes again,” says Simon Brotherton.

France 0 Mexico 2
Patrice Evra is in tears during the anthems as though he knew what was about to take place. Mark “Oh dear dear dear” Bright thinks the French are awful and is chided by Brotherton who insists they are better than in the first match. But it’s all relative. Florent Malouda gets France’s one good chance of the World Cup so far after 53 minutes, his shot being pushed over the bar. While Mexico tighten their control on the game, Domenech leans wanly against the dugout like someone stood up on a date waiting for a cab home. Brotherton gives him a prod: “Domenech there surrounded by his allies, ie on his own, he hasn’t got any.” It’s possible that the French players signing autographs and taking part in big-budget television and cinema advertisements before the tournament started did not foresee how non-iconic they would look, huddled against the cold on a bench covered by a tartan blanket. The pensioners-on-the-sea-front look is one Nike, Pepsi, Umbro, Pringles and the rest have so far overlooked. The decisive second goal comes from a penalty won by Pablo Barrera after a weaving run into the area. Blanco’s immensely long run-up for the kick is like something from a primary school match. “Don’t go out like suckers,” says Bright as Domenech restricts himself to two substitutes. A group of players who had been warming up spend the last few minutes watching glumly from behind a goal. "The worst team in the tournament are... the French!” bellows Shearer. A thought that may also have been going through Domenech’s mind. While it’s good that the BBC have included background reports on South Africa as part of their coverage, there’s nothing to be gained from sending Shearer to a township. Especially if he’s going to say things like this opening gambit to a local in tonight’s post-match clip: “So, segregation. How did you feel about that?” The man whistles in surprise, possibly annoyance, before politely answering.

June 18
Germany 0 Serbia 1
Löw and staff look like casual dads at a garden centre in their black cardies and white T-shirts and they do plenty of synchronised shouting directed at the match officials. From his first booking after three minutes, Mr Undiano seems intent on being the star of the show. “The referee’s a clown, can I say that? Outrageous, ruined the game,” says McCarthy after Klose gets his second yellow for an innocuous trip on 36 minutes. Milan Jovanovic puts Serbia into the lead two minutes later. McCar­thy then rages at Vladimir Stojkovic for overreacting to a shoulder barge by Lukas Podolski – “The keeper’s a big tart doing that” – and seems ready to march down to the pitch when Sami Khedira’s overhead kick, which hits the bar, is ruled a foul for raised feet. In control for 20 minutes after the restart, Germany get a penalty when Nemanja Vidic becomes the second Serb defender in successive games to handle a cross. But Podolski’s kick is saved by Stojkovic, “who had such a dreadful season for Wigan”. “I didn’t fancy him, still don’t,” snarls McCarthy who feels that Serbia are not making the best use of the giant centre-forward Nikola Zigic: “Not their way, to play it up to the big man.” Zigic has a bad game in any case, though he manages to outjump Phillip Lahm and also hits the bar with a header. “You’ll be up against Zigic next season, Mick,” says Pearce. The reply – “Yes, I’ll struggle as I’m 51” – sets Pearce off on a prolonged cackle like a Batman villain. Löw is seen flinging a water bottle to the floor in fury as Germany squander several chances in a lacklustre final 20 minutes.

Slovenia 2 USA 2
“I saw Slovenia play against Algeria and thought they were useless,” says Hansen at half-time but he’s leading up to an apology because they’re two up and he can’t see them not winning. Valter Birsa’s first, swinging past a motionless Howard from 30 yards, is one of the best goals so far. The Slovene goal celebration involves wiggling their arms in the air like five-year-olds pretending to be a forest in Activity & Movement. Roy Hodgson doesn’t share Hansen’s confidence – “I think Slovenia’s central defenders have got a mistake in them” – and he’s proved right, Bostjan Cesar’s lunge at mid-air letting Donovan lash in the US’s first just after half-time. Bradley and his staff are the fastest off the bench to celebrate goals at this World Cup and they get another chance to zip down the touchline when Bradley Junior equalises on 81 minutes. The US storm forward and appear to have won it when Maurice Edu bundles in a free-kick but the whistle had blown, although in the general mêlée the Slovenes are clearly doing more of the holding. Lineker has a deeply patronising send-off: “Message to watching Americans, that’s what makes football so special.” They won’t be thinking that after the next game.

Algeria 0 England 0
Christ.
 
June 19
Holland 1 Japan 0
“Englanditis is catching,” says Matt Smith after a dull first half, though both teams can at least find team-mates with passes and look competent rather than hapless. Japan defend diligently but the Dutch are not doing much with their dominance of possession. Over a shot of Takeshi Okada, Champion does a spot-on impression of a wartime newsreel announcer: “The inscrutable coach... his fiendish plan is working.” But the Dutch are soon in front, Robin van Persie’s thump from the edge of the area going through Eiji Kawashima’s hands. “It took 53 minutes then some football broke out.” The Dutch sub Afellay makes an impact again having one shot cleared off the line but Japan squander a chance to grab an equaliser in the 90th minute when Shinji Okazaki blasts over from a tight angle when he could have squared to a free team-mate. Favourite fact of the tournament so far: Shunsuke Nakamura has an asteroid named after him.

Australia 1 Ghana 1
Just when we hear that Richard Kingson has played more for Ghana over the last four years than his club sides he spills a free-kick, with Brett Holman first to the rebound to score. Ghana level from a penalty given when Harry Kewell handles on the line. He takes an age to leave the pitch, angrily directing the referee to the big screen replay though it was clearly a handball. Ghana don’t seize the initiative in the hour that’s left although Bright admires their footwork: “People like skills don’t they, especially in Africa.” He’s also hit upon the Ghanaians’ main problem: “What the delivery needs to be is just better.” Australia have good chances through Scott Chipperfield and Luke Wilkshire, the latter especially wasteful in trying to shoot through Kingson rather than lifting the ball over him. That they salvage a point is mainly due to Ghana’s reckless shooting, for which Adebayor has a plausible explanation: “Everyone wants to be the hero.” It’s summed up in the last action of the match when a Ghanaian free-kick is launched towards Zimbabwe.  

Cameroon 1 Denmark 2
A classic. Equal parts poor defending and great attacking play on a chilly night that has the feel of a European club match – Morten Olsen and staff are in Adidas coats with zipped up jackets underneath while Paul Le Guen, who has a haunted look throughout, makes do with a pullover under his suit. In putting Cameroon ahead after a mistake by Christian Poulsen, Eto’o “scores one for Africa”, according to Champion. Whatever celebration Eto’o may have planned is shelved in favour of a ferocious, fist-clenching scream. The Danes’ equaliser is fantastic with a long crossfield pass from Simon Kjaer to “the roadrunner Rommedahl” who crosses for Bendtner: “One thrusting slide from the Arsenal centre-forward.” It’s end to end for much of the second half with Champion offering a comparison to fox any viewers under 30: “Some defending here right out of Billy Smart’s manual!” Moments after Pierre Webó shoots wide, Dennis Rommedahl breaks away and plants the winning goal into the far corner. “He’s having one of his better nights. I’ve seen him in car crashes too,” says Beglin. Later Thomas Sorensen makes a low one-handed save from Emana, and Mohammadou Idrissou heads over as Cameroon become the first team to be knocked out.   

June 20
Slovakia 0 Paraguay 2
“Men against boys,” says Keown in the emptiest stadium yet. Paraguay are dominant with chances for Cristian Riveros and Lucas Barrios before Enrique Vera dinks in the first. With a dearth of action to replay once the first goal is scored, the TV producer opts for several close-ups of the World Cup ball. “They might as well put a price tag on it,” says Steve Wilson. A Kornel Salata header over the bar is Slovakia’s best chance. Weiss Junior appears to get booked by mistake, the referee bamboozled by the flock of shaven heads in white shirts. Keown is unimpressed by junior’s fondness for little flicks: “His dad as the coach should sort that out.” In the studio, McCarthy is enjoying Paraguay’s new attacking formation: “It’s a 4-3-3 but not a negative 4-3-3.” Riveros makes the game safe, smashing in with four minutes left.

Italy 1 New Zealand 1
The holders haven’t won a game this year but the commentators are expecting a stroll. “This is Italy’s code,” says Tyldesley after a few reflections on the All Blacks. Six minutes in, he’s bellowing astonishment at Smeltz’s goal, which is clearly offside. “Football remember. Italy 0 New Zealand 1!” Italy might have levelled through a Riccardo Montolivo shot which hits the post with Mark Paston motionless, but they finally manage it from Vincenzo Iaquinta’s penalty given for mild shirt-tugging on De Rossi, after which we get possibly the only vuvuzela-based celebration of the tournament – Iaquinta runs away pointing to nose, De Rossi mimes blowing a horn on it. “Somewhat boisterous strikers,” says Coleman with evident satisfaction as Rory Fallon and Chris Killen dig in their elbows when contesting crosses. A group of Italian subs seem to want to debate New Zealand’s approach as the teams walk off for half-time but are ushered away by Fabio Cannavaro. “Hang on New Zealand, hang on,” says Coleman as they continue to repel attacks conducted at a stately pace. But teenage substitute Chris Wood, “of whom great things are expected at West Brom”, has the best chance of all, his shot slipping just wide. A group of New Zealanders go topless, twirling their shirts over their heads as the clock ticks down. “The man coming on works in a bank!” says Tyldesley of the last-minute sub, Andy Barron. Italy didn’t play badly, but looked toothless in attack.

Brazil 3 Ivory Coast 1
“Can Sven unleash his Drog of war?” asks Pearce. Well, no. Drogba does at least get a consolation goal near the end but this is a one-sided contest, albeit the most prickly so far. Lawrenson is exasperated by a dull first 20 minutes but seems to have come prepared. “What did Barnsley supporters say – ‘It’s just like watching Brazil’? Well, this is just like Barnsley.” The repeats are getting on his wick too – “They should show that another 47 times, that’d be great” – and he thinks there’s still mileage in the “...not!” joke from Wayne’s World that has been old for at least 18 years. Luís Fabiano’s second goal survives perfectly valid claims of a double handball but the referee may have allowed it because he noted Fabiano doing something very complex with his hands and chest and didn’t want to put him off by blowing his whistle. Just as you wouldn’t shout “Hey! How’s the boy?” behind someone constructing a tower of champagne glasses. Drogba gets his first decent cross in the 53rd minute but heads wide. “Got to change it now, the Svenster,” says Lawrenson as Brazilian dominance continues. He then joins Pearce in recalling that Eriksson used to “do nothing” when England were behind. Elano holds up his shinpads to the cameras after scoring the third. “Worth a few quid,” sniffs Lawrenson. But it turns out that they have the names of children on them rather than sponsors. “Good job he doesn’t have three.” Shortly after he is carried off after having had his shin raked by Ismael Tioté. The last ten minutes is a fight waiting to begin. Dunga, in a rather shabby hooded coat, hops about in fury on the sidelines after Kaká is sent off for tapping Fadel Keita on the chest.

June 21
Portugal 7 North Korea 0
In wake of North Korea’s sturdy defending against Brazil there was general agreement that they wouldn’t capitulate easily today. “They’re fighting for the pride of their nation in every sense,” says Brotherton. Hong Yong-Jo and Cha Jong-Hyok have half chances while Portugal fail to create much for the first half hour as the rain lashes down. Raul Meireles, “who looks like a drowned cat”, kisses a selection of his many tattoos after scoring from Tiago’s angled pass. The Koreans are pegged back after the goal though Carlos Queiroz is seen giving the anonymous Ronaldo a ticking off: “He’s saying is there any chance of you getting a kick?” says McCarthy. Mick likes Pedro Mendes, though. “One who’s prepared to sit there and do the dirty work.” “The Korean coach talked about ‘guarding the gate to the motherland’ but it’s been left open and swinging in the wind,” says Brotherton of the second-half goal flurry as Portugal overwhelm tiring opponents. McCar­thy is concerned at signs of showboating: “Don’t take the mickey out of them. Win it but do it with humility, don’t do tricks and flicks you wouldn’t do if it was 0-0.” Having bounced a shot off the bar, Ronaldo “puts the icing on Portugal’s cake”, balancing the ball on his immense neck before scoring the sixth and his first of the tournament. McCarthy is in stern dad mode when asked about Ronaldo getting whacked: “He deserves it sometimes when he messes about.”

Chile 1 Switzerland 0
“We talk about aggressive play but this is aggressive refereeing,” says Mowbray of the very finicky Mr Al Ghamdi of Saudi Arabia who is prone to rushing up to players whenever making a decision. A big fuss is made of the Swiss getting close to the World Cup shutout record which they duly break early in the second half. They’re down to ten by then, Valon Behrami ordered off for a couple of quick swings of the elbow. It’s a rare one that the ref gets right. “He’s from Asia, most of these players are in good European leagues,” says Bright. The camera zooms in for a close-up on the unblinking eyes of Marcelo Bielsa who crouches by the dugout throughout. Ottmar Hitzfeld looks baffled and weary in his fawn raincoat, like a detective in a Euro thriller wondering why someone has such a murderous grudge against clowns. His grinding team continue to beak up Chile’s rhythm but also get a bit of luck when Sánchez’s strike is ruled out for a marginal offside. “The key to unlock the Swiss bank vault has been forced,” says Mowbray as Mark González finally gets the breakthrough. Chile, mindful that they have Spain next, still look for second with Esteban Paredes missing badly twice. In the 89th minute the Swiss nearly snatch an undeserved equaliser, Eren Derdiyok shooting wide after a neat passing move.  
 
Spain 2 Honduras 0
Spain’s performance tonight means they have become the commentators’ new favourites. They are out-playing Honduras but when Villa finishes a bog-standard breakaway attack against a retreating defence with a deflected shot that loops over the Honduran keeper, Drury’s squawk of “Brilliant! Just brilliant!” seems just a little overplayed. The slow-motion replay of Villa’s first goal, which actually was brilliant, shows Noel Valladares’ face twisted in flight as he sees the ball going in. This is precisely how every goal conceded against Roy of the Rovers was drawn. There’s another little moment for aerosol watchers with Piqué having spray applied directly into his mouth following a cut, after which he has sticking plasters daubed haphazardly on his face. Although the game is as one-sided as the second half of Portugal v North Korea – “If you’re Honduras it could get humiliating at any time,” says Beglin – Spain don’t make their dominance pay, with Villa missing the penalty that would have given him a hat-trick. Drury keeps egging him on though – “Now David Villa, now David Villa...No David Villa!” – as further chances are missed. “Lovely but not lethal,” says Beglin. “We apologise for the one-sidedness of that match,” says Chiles back in the studio where Kevin Keegan has a curiously stunned air, like a newly released hostage who can’t quite believe that he’s free.
 
June 22
Mexico 0 Uruguay 1
France 1 South Africa 2

“Contest or consensus? Find out,” says Drury as Mexico v Uruguay kicks off. Despite both teams only needing a draw it’s a lively opening with Uruguay’s Suárez and Pereira having the best chances in the first 20 minutes. The Mexicans are the only fans here doing a variation on the “You’re shit” chant (“Aah... puta!”) at opposition goal-kicks. Shortly after South Africa go one up, an Andrés Guardado drive hits the underside of the Uruguayan bar and bounces out. France midfielder Yoann Gourcuff is then sent off. Uruguay’s Diego Pérez is bleeding profusely from a mid-air clash, which looks worse than the incident that led to Gourcuff’s dismissal, and is propped up against a bench to receive stitches while team-mates look on and laugh. He tries to return but keeps getting sent back by the fourth official to have the blood wiped off. South Africa go two up and have a third ruled out for offside. Then Suárez puts Uruguay 1-0 ahead. “Now then,” says Drury. “Bafana Bafana can you hear this?” South Africa need a two-goal turnaround. Mexico are in a hurry to score after the restart but Maza Rodríguez fluffs a chance and Pérez makes a fine stop from Diego Lugano’s header. After Malouda gets a goal back for France the game peters out. Later, Smith, Andy Townsend and Southgate have a bit of fun at France’s expense and particularly Domenech’s handling of the mutiny. A clip is shown of Domenech at a press conference, agreeing distractedly that his team’s exit might be a case of poetic justice after the way they qualified. Back in the studio, Smith’s comment, “Ah but he is a fool isn’t he”, comes across as jarringly tabloid. It is one thing to have the relaxed atmosphere in a television studio of a few blokes chatting down the pub, but another to actually talk that way. 

Argentina 2 Greece 0
Nigeria 2 South Korea 2

Finally a good half hour from Nigeria for whom the introduction of Nwankwo Kanu makes a difference. Uche puts them a goal up and also hits the post. But then poor marking at a free-kick, which prompts indignant squawks from Bright, allows Lee Jung-Soo to score an untidy equaliser – he stoops to head but it bounces in off his knee. Maradona crosses himself eight times before Argentina’s game. “A religious form of Tourettes,” says Chiles. But at half-time, with the game goalless, Greece are still holding on to second place. Hansen and Harry Redknapp both flatly refuse to name Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Messi’s man-marker, on the grounds that there are too many syllables. The fact that Hansen manages to say “Un-be-lieve-a-ble”, just one syllable less, on a very regular basis on Match of the Day apparently does not give him enough confidence to attack the problem. South Korea are as dominant in the second half as Nigeria had been for much of the first, taking the lead when Enyeama positions himself badly for Park Chu-Young’s free-kick which sails straight in. Halfway through the second half, with Greece grimly hanging on to the 0-0 draw, McCarthy surprisingly challenges the laws of pure mathematics. “They might talk about the mathematics but, for me, Argentina have won this group, whatever happens.” Perhaps he will reassess the received knowledge on gravitational pull during Germany v Ghana. Midway through the half, Yakubu contributes the worst miss of the World Cup as a cross bounces off his heel in front of an empty net. He manages a rictus laugh in astonishment, as you would on seeing house keys fall through a drain. A minute later Korea sub Kim Nam-Il, known as “the hoover” and brought on to add midfield stability, gives away a penalty after being dispossessed by Obasi. It’s calmly stroked in by Yakubu who is then none too pleased to be subbed. Moments after Danny Shittu is millimetres away from scoring a thumping own goal, Argentina go 1-0 up. Even when trailing with less than ten minutes to go, Greece are still sticking to their defensive task, closing opponents down and getting behind the ball – a sight of real pathos, like a damaged clockwork toy ripped apart by the family pet still gamely limping repeatedly into the skirting board. Before Martín Palermo’s second for Argentina, Obafemi Martins messes up a chip over the keeper which sails wide. Victor Obinna goes close with two long-range shots in the final minutes. “Feel It! Ghana is Here!” makes a reappearance on a smaller sheet of cardboard. They might be gloating.
 
June 23
England 1 Slovenia 0
Algeria 0 USA 1

“In FA Cup terms it’s Premier League versus Third Division,” says Mowbray. But which team is which? Lawrenson is even more drawn to pointless puns than normal. “A bit of a tap on the ankle,” says Mowbray. “He should have been a plumber,” is the retort. Maybe he’s nervous. England certainly are despite Jermain Defoe’s goal, which comes shortly after Dempsey has one disallowed in the other match. Wayne Rooney also has a goal ruled out, then scuffs a shot that’s pushed onto the post. “Seven games without a goal,” says Mowbray. “He knows,” says Lawrenson. In a rare attack, Birsa fires wide for Slovenia after two shots are blocked, during which JT the Human Cannonball attempts a headed clearance while diving full length two foot off the ground. “Watching England sometimes is a cure for constipation,” says Lawrenson ominously as David James comes out to gather. While David Beckham bobs about in his three-piece suit like someone trying to start a fight at a wedding, Fabio Capello bellows oaths. “For years we didn’t see Sven do that,” says Mowbray but he’s just swearing in Italian, it won’t have helped much. By the end, with England failing to keep the ball in the corner, Mowbray is groaning “This is unbearable” and he’s right. An injury-time goal for the US means that they win the group, a development that the Slovene players don’t seem to be aware of as they swap shirts. Still England have avoided going out at the group stage for the first time since 1958. Woof.
 
Germany 1 Ghana 0
Australia 2 Serbia 1

“Ghana are as keen as a badger,” says Coleman and they have the better chances in an eventful first half, the closest coming when a Gyan header is chested off the line by Lahm after Manuel Neuer misses a corner. After several replays suggest it might have been handball, Tyldesley gets quite piqued about the sending off of Kewell for a comparable offence. But the half-time panel don’t think it was handball at all after which Tyldesley doesn’t mention it again. As in the previous match, Ghana can keep possession effortlessly but often choose the wrong options in attack, especially when it involves the erratic Gyan. With Germany leading from Ozil’s fine strike, Coleman is seized by portent – “Cometh the man, cometh the hour, as they say” – when Sulley Muntari, sent home for disruptive behaviour then recalled, is brought on as a sub. Meanwhile, the other match is livening up. Australia take the lead through Cahill, then get a second. They will go through with one more goal plus a second here for Germany. Coleman, clearly rooting for Ghana, wheezes with anxiety whenever they dwell on the ball but they don’t look like conceding another. Serbia only need a draw to go through after getting one goal back then have another disallowed. There’s time for a Muntari blooter over the bar and it’s over. Both teams are through.

June 24
Italy 2 Slovakia 3
New Zealand 0 Paraguay 0

“Not a thing of great beauty at the moment,” says Drury of a stuttering first 20 minutes. But after an error by De Rossi leads to Vittek putting Slovakia ahead we get one of the games of the tournament. “The world champions are in a deep, deep hole,” says an exultant Drury. Italy fail to put together a single move and nearly go two down as Juraj Kucka’s dipping volley shaves the post. Lippi puts his hands to his head several times and seems to be methodically feeling for lumps at the back of his neck. Gianluigi Buffon stalks the touchline clenching his fist while tempers fray in front of him; Webb makes furious “get up” gestures when the Slovak keeper Jan Mucha feigns injury. Italy claim a goal when Martin Skrtel clears off the line, while Drury recalls that the linesman, Darren Cann, once gave a goal in an Arsenal v Man Utd match when Edwin van der Sar clawed the ball back from behind the line. Vittek becomes joint top scorer in the World Cup after poor defending lets him for a second. “Fallen champions!” says Drury, having a go at a big soundbite moment. Di Natale taps in from a Mucha save. Then a bundle – Mucha seemingly feigning injury again after rolling in the net with Fabio Quagliarella, who is then given offside “by a head” by our man Darren Cann. “Exit Cannavaro... your career has been terminated,” says Alan Partridge, having wrestled the mike from Drury when sub Kamil Kopunek puts Slovakia 3-1 up with his first touch. Quagliarella does the celebration we used to see from Diomansy Kamara of someone shaking a faulty transistor radio just above their ear, after chipping Mucha for 3-2. In the final moments, Simone Pepe fires wide from a throw-in and Lippi storms off without shaking hands.

Denmark 1 Japan 3
Cameroon 1 Holland 2

The referee seemed to be in the mood to ruin this match before it started, firstly by breaking up Japan’s pre-match huddle, then insisting that the white tape on Bendtner’s ankles should be shaded with a red marker to match his socks. Happily, however, his pernicketiness doesn’t stretch further than booking two Japanese players for time-wasting midway through the first half. By then Japan are ahead from Keisuke Honda’s long-range free-kick. “He’s not going to score from there,” says Wilson but it’s misjudged by Sorensen and flies in. Ronaldo is namechecked about four times in the aftermath as though he owns the copyright on free-kicks, while Yasuhito Endo’s second goal, bent around the wall, apparently needs to acknowledge a debt to Beckham. “He’s out there somewhere,” says Keown of the anonymous Bendtner, shackled by Yuji Nakazawa. Half chances for Rommedahl and Jon Dahl Tomasson aren’t much encouragement for Olsen who is seen studying his notes in weary bafflement. “It’s for the bus home,” says Redknapp at half-time to howls of hilarity. “He’s got eight chicken and chips, ten fish and chips.” Tomasson becomes Denmark’s joint record scorer when he shanks in the rebound after his penalty is saved. He pulls a muscle during his miscue but can’t go off because the Danes have used all their subs. Sorensen is millimetres away from the worst blunder of the tournament when another long-range free-kick slips through his fingers and bounces off the bar. Drury later refers to “Safe Hands” Sorensen when he gathers up a soft cross, although the England keeper who liked to be known as Safe Hands was also, of course, prone to the odd hooey from distance. “Honda has played like a Rolls Royce,” says Keown after the striker sets up Shinji Okazaki for the third. Redknapp later triggers another barrage of mirth by claiming that he tried to swap Honda for (get ready) Bentley. Goodnight and mind how you go.

June 25
Brazil 0 Portugal 0
Ivory Coast 3 North Korea 0
Pearce and the pundits are brimful of Nike ad-fuelled expectation today and end up mightily crestfallen. McCar­thy’s performance, however, is a firm rebuttal of Lawrensonism, proving that you can express discontent and still make pertinent points. “We expected a flurry of goals, we got a flurry of yellow cards,” sighs Pearce. There are seven in the first half, including one for Duda’s protest at Juan only being booked for handling to stop Ronaldo getting through. Pearce lavishes praise on the referee but at half-time all the pundits think it should have been a red. Felipe Melo is subbed before the break to stop him being sent off after he and Pepe conduct a feud, which hasn’t impressed McCarthy. “If you’re going to get retribution, wait and do it properly, don’t do a little sly one.” A rare run into the box from Ronaldo leads to Portugal’s best chance but Meireles’ shot is blocked by Júlio César, who is somehow not impeded by his vast, low-slung shorts. Ivory Coast are two up at half-time but still require Portugal to lose by a hatful. With neither side needing to score, the second half grinds on in a welter of misplaced passes and there’s booing audible long before the end. “For a Brazil game. Against Portugal. In the World Cup,” says Pearce in the despairing tones of someone who’s just witnessed a nun being mugged. “Get them off, let’s have the result,” says McCarthy who does at least enjoy the last bit of action when the considerable weight of César thuds into the prone Danny: “Oof. Now will you go to church?” “Same old Brazil, always boring,” says Lineker.

Chile 1 Spain 2
Honduras 0 Switzerland 0

“Not a word sung by the Spanish players. They know they’ve got to win,” says Tyldesley. They also know that Spain’s anthem doesn’t have any words. Chile begin with one of the best 15 minutes of any side in the tournament, pacy and purposeful, but they’re also diving into tackles. Waldo Ponce, already booked, gets away with a Beckham-esque flick after being fouled. Spain had not had an attacking move when they score, Villa returning Claudio Bravo’s rushed clearance into an empty net. Tyldesley goes on about how Bielsa has glasses on a cord “and only school teachers have glasses on a cord”. Which suggests he attended a school with a staff that included Larry Grayson and Ronnie Corbett. The suspicion that Bielsa’s unusual posture might have a haemorrhoidal cause is supported later when the cameras catch him grimacing with his eyes closed. In the build-up to Spain’s second goal, Torres makes his one contribution to the World Cup so far, tumbling under minimal contact from Marco Estrada who is sent off by the saturnine Mexican referee. Coleman pronounces Puyol as “Pie ’ole”. After Rodrigo Millar’s deflected shot goes in for Chile on 47 minutes, Switzerland need a two-goal win over Honduras. With that match heading for a draw – the Hondurans have a goal contentiously ruled out late on – there’s an “uneasy truce” here, Spain and Chile passing the ball around in their own half. Two middle-aged men standing together in the crowd with their respective flags suddenly look ready to lamp each other so the cameras cut away. ITV don’t bother to show any Switzerland v Honduras highlights. After all it’s only directly relevant, no biggie.

From WSC 282 August 2010

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