I’m sure that I won’t be alone in noting that we’re now nearly a week into the World Cup and still await what you might call a genuinely gripping contest. Reviewing the vaudeville travails of the England squad, Fabio Capello may have come into the tournament looking like the Coach who was finally going to ‘get things right’, but the ineptitude of England’s performance against the USA has left him looking as bereft of inspiration as his predecessors. Add to that a couple of injury problems in the heart of the defence and it’s clear that the England camp are following a well-worn track and are already forming the wagons into a circle. If it’s possible, all the pre-tournament bluster about England winning the trophy seems flimsier than ever.
Not that the so-called big guns are exactly covering themselves with glory. Only Germany’s 4-0 demolition of a limited and ageing Australian side has really quickened the pulses. Portugal, the Ivory Coast, Argentina and Brazil have all struggled to find their true form and Spain haven’t even played yet. So far it’s been a tournament for the plucky underdogs – notably New Zealand and North Korea – though there have been no real shock results, just a series of hugely disappointing games.
The local wildlife was unimpressed with Portugal v Ivory Coast
The stadia all look really good and if you can blot out the banshee drone of the vuvuzelas (good luck with that) then the atmosphere has been vibrant at most games. Talking of the dreaded vuvuzelas, I see that the BBC are contemplating the introduction of an audio feed that screens them out. Can’t happen soon enough for me. The locals are bullishly asserting that they constitute a uniquely South African ingredient to the flavour of Africa’s first World Cup, so perhaps those involved in England’s bid to bring the tournament here in 2018 could follow this lead. They could assert that gangs of drunken hooligans will add a uniquely English flavour to the tournament and should be tolerated or even encouraged.
The South Africans are also telling us that vuvuzelas are now becoming a big export item and that every visitor to the country is leaving with at least 2 of them stuffed into their luggage. I hope that the FA, the Premier League clubs and local police are prepared to implement an immediate ban on people taking them into English grounds. God knows, the cost of watching a Premiership match in this country is already prohibitive and that price should at least offer some insurance from sitting right in front of some moron blowing one of these things relentlessly throughout a tepid 0-0 stalemate.
Also, you just know that some enterprising shyster has already ordered 50,000 of the bloody things in United club colours from Taiwan and will be hawking them in the streets around Old Trafford come August. Time to root out this particular weed before it gets established.
All English football grounds should have hundreds of these put up immediately!
Back on the pitch, it’s clear that most of what we’ve seen to date has been rather like a ‘phoney war’. All teams are desperate not to lose their first game and a secure but boring draw is one way of prolonging their ambition of negotiating their way out of the group phase. The tournament will probably only take off once teams are up against a wall and have to win or take an early trip home. So, what we have seen so far is a lot of fearful and conservative football with everyone terrified of getting hammered.
In this context, we should perhaps spare a thought for Australia’s Tim Cahill. Feeling sympathy for Australians is a concept that leaves me feeling rather queasy, but Cahill’s harsh sending off against Germany and the likely two-match ban he will incur as a result could mean that his World Cup is over unless an uninspired Australian team can redeem themselves in their 2 remaining games. Considering that he has no doubt been preparing and psyching himself up for this tournament for a couple of years now, it must feel like saving up for a big holiday only to have your hotel burn down on your first night there. Sport plays such a huge part in the often over-inflated sense of self-esteem flaunted by so many Aussies that his sense of despair is only likely to increase in the coming days.
I still harbour hopes that a tremendously gifted Argentina team are on the point of catching fire and illuminating the tournament. They are far better going forward than they are in defence where Heinze and Gutierrez are a full-back pairing that make England’s Johnson & Cole look positively accomplished. Even so to watch Messi, Mascherano and Veron dismantle Nigeria was an intermittent joy and if they can find a clinical finisher among their talented ranks then it could still be their year.
Messi and Veron could ignite the whole tournament