Bland leaders

Coming down with premature World Cup fever? Michael Owen’s tournament diary should calm you down (if not send you to sleep). Ian Plenderleith looks at the big boys’ special sites for Germany 2006

Several major internet companies and sports channels have launched their own dedicated World Cup websites and most will track matches during the tournament to catch the unfortunate fans who can’t be there because they don’t have a mate of a mate who works for one of the tournament’s corporate sponsors, or who are unable to be sitting in front of a TV screen.

There’s no knowing in advance, of course, how good a site’s coverage might be during the competition, but here’s a guide based on advance content should you find yourself at work in June with a boss too mean to let you go down the pub for a three-hour afternoon break.

Yahoo landed the contract to mould the official FIFA website and they’ve done a reasonable job, in that all the information you need is there if you can find it among the reams of self-promotion implying that all the world’s problems are going to be solved through a four-week football tournament. The positives are in the smaller details, such as being able to work out local kick-off times no matter where you are in the world, a calendar of pre-tournament friendlies, or being able to customise the front page depending on which teams you’re interested in. It’s probably best, though, to avoid the feature “Joao Havelange: My FIFA World Cups” (“Now 87 years young, Jean-Marie Faustin Godefroid de Havelange still cuts an athletic figure…”). The video archive would be a dream if it actually worked, but even with a high-speed broadband connection it’s difficult to navigate, very slow to download, and erratic in what it will show you when it finally functions. 6/10

Leading its site with the outside scoop, MSN make the classic mistake of thinking that footballers’ blogs have something to tell us. There’s dreary Michael Owen breaking new boundaries of blandness (“Being a manager is not an easy job at all”), Ronaldinho and his trite global healing at Easter (“Lots of unity, lots of love and health for the whole world”) and the self-regarding Claude Makelele (“It is becoming more of a regular feature of Chelsea’s games now that the opposition teams are designating a man to mark me throughout the match”). Expect more such swashbuckling insight during the tournament (Owen: “Obviously the lads were disappointed with the draw against Trinidad & Tobago…”). Alongside this are a few desultory, blokeish features with titles like “Hotheads to watch out for in Germany” and “Classic red mist moments” from past World Cups, hacked together from the Google School of Five-Second Journalism. There’s an undated, unattributed news feed to round off the site’s overall slapdash feel. 1/10

Sky Sports
This site is well structured and easy to navigate. The content plays it straight, but if you’re looking to gen up on Ecuador v Costa Rica, say, you’ll appreciate the no-nonsense approach when you need to access who the key players are on either side, or find out the latest news on injuries. As well as a comprehensive guide to the cities and stadiums, there are kit graphics, projected team line-ups and, for those quiet half-time moments, a dedicated crossword for each team (from the Ghana puzzle: six letters, “scored as sub v Cape Verde Islands”. Argh, it’s on the tip of my tongue…). 9/10

ESPN Soccernet
Another site fat on content and the fact that it stars WSC writers Phil Ball and Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger as regular contributors must count in its favour, although avoid at all costs the video clips of US-based ESPN commentator Tommy Smyth unless you take a particular delight in dim-witted gibberish. The site seems all set up to track the games already and, although it’s not as accessible as Sky’s, most of what you need is in there somewhere, while providing superficial but gratifying extras like a click-through photo-feature on all 32 countries. There’s also the chance to become a Soccernet armchair correspondent for a country of your choice. 8/10

In line with most other dumbed-to-death BBC departments, the World Cup website seems to be aiming its prose at the five- to nine-year-old demographic. This translates into awkward one-sentence paragraphs, the infuriating style used across the entire BBC website. Imagine reading the Sun, but edited by your Gran. The only thing that looks promising is a World Cup Predictor. You fill in your forecasts for all the games then send it off for… the chance to win tickets to the final? No such shot at luck with the Beeb. You get to email it to a friend, who will doubtless promptly delete it as junk mail. 1/10

From WSC 232 June 2006. What was happening this month