Germany 2 Ghana 2
Martin Tyler is the king of English language commentators for all sorts of different reasons; his professionalism, his wide-ranging knowledge, the way he reads the play, and the modulation and tone of his voice which he adjusts so smoothly from quiet murmurings to genuine excitement without needing to go all ‘Rabbits’ Warren by blasting his voice into the microphone at the merest hint of something exciting. But the way he can make even the dullest, most cautious of games appear to just fly by is his greatest gift. In part he does this by not merely reciting facts about the players, the teams, their histories and the history of the game, but by telling stories and establishing a broader narrative, like a sober, erudite version of the local bus stop outpatient nutbag. There’s something lost when he’s paired up with a special comments man; his freedom to wander where he pleases, the way even saying a particular player’s name – in this game, Mertesacker – performs a function like the carriage return on a typewriter, signalling the end of one series of thoughts and the beginning of a new set. He has to do a lot of this during the first half this game, where all sorts of potential intricacies could come into play – Boateng vs Boateng, chief among them, of course – but don’t, as the two sides cancel each other out. Paul Okon tries to put everyone to sleep during the halftime break, which is a distinct possibility if, like me, you’ve just had a chamomile tea. But the second half comes to the rescue, as the game opens up. The Germans open the scoring as Goetze misses the cross with his head, but has it fortuitously hit his knee and go in anyway. It’s not how, just how many right? Ghana hit back quickly, with a wonderful header by Ayew, and take the lead thanks to Gyan making the most of his chance, after Germany coughed up possession in midfield with what looked like – oh, it’s so hard to say, it’s so horrible – a square ball. Klose came off the bench, and moments afterwards pulled off a John Anastasidis 1999 NSL grand final right place right time kind of effort to level the scores. The game swings back Germany’s way, but they can’t get the winner, though the way the game ends leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth, with Muller lying on his back, bloodied after a collision, and the coverage departing quickly, with no Tyler postscript.
Nigeria 1 Bosnia & Herzegovina 0
Though the offside call that denied Bosnia-Herzegovina the opening goal of this game was horrid, both for its inaccuracy and for the lateness of the call, the way that Bosnia-Herzegovina reacted – or Benson and Hedges as they are sometimes called on the Football Anarchy forum – had almost as much to do with their eventual undoing. Their left hand side was a mess, and Emenike took advantage of the situation when he out-muscled his opponent and passed to Odemwingie – who, it was mentioned at least three times by the commentator, had had a falling out with the coach, and missed Nigeria’s African Cup of Nations win – for the easy finish. The Bosnians pleaded for a foul to be given, but it was just old fashioned strength that won the day. Before exploiting that opportunity, the Nigerians were more interested in getting into the end of tournament highlight reel, perhaps not realising that the World Soccer programme that SBS used to play got canned years ago, and along with it the usually birthday-related goal montages that would close out a show. The Nigerians spent most of the second half time-wasting, but a late flurry by the Bosnians saw them get close to an equaliser maybe once. So although they have one game left in this tournament, it’s farewell to Bosnia. And farewell to Herzegovina, too.
South Korea 2 Algeria 4
Got up just before 4:00am or so, and therefore missed seeing any of the Belgium – Russia match. So, after a Tim Tam and a banana, ended up watching Al Jazeera’s news hour on ABC News 24 which, without wishing to sound inconsiderate, resembles the old Bill Hicks bit about CNN: WAR, FAMINE, DEATH, AIDS, HOMELESS, RECESSION, DEPRESSION, WAR, FAMINE, DEATH, AIDS – and where Hicks looked outside his window and could only hear crickets chirping, all I had was a gale force wind. Nevertheless, should I have felt guilty for spending so much time and effort documenting a football tournament from my couch, while all this turmoil was going on? A tournament run by one of the world’s most corrupt organisations, and one which has also taken its toll on the Brazilian population? Still, at least by the time Al Jazeera got to the end of its allotted hour it lightened up a bit when they played the story about some folks hanging out in The Netherlands looking to build a house using 3D printing technology, which was a little bit more uplifting than the story about the rise of carjackings in lawless Libya. When it was mentioned that 17 members of Algeria’s squad were French born, it made we wonder a bit about my earlier thoughts on the ethnic composition of the French national team. Not much time to do that though, as Algeria look the better of the two teams by a fair bit, helped considerably by the Koreans’ central defensive pairing who were all over the shop, even from the long ball which is surely the first thing you learn how to defend in that position. Algeria went into the half time break up 3-0 using fairly primitive, albeit effective tactics. Though the Koreans pulled one back, Algeria re-established their three goal buffer, before one more goal from the team in red rounded off the scoring. The match reached full farce status not due to the Koreans’ defending, but due to one of the free-kicks they took in the second half. One of the two Koreans standing over the ball leaned in to his partner-in-crime’s ear and whispered what I assume was the plan of attack. Quite why he felt he needed to whisper it remains a mystery, as I can’t imagine he was speaking in Arabic, French, or at a stretch Berber, and if it was indeed Korean that he was using – the most likely scenario – then what were the chances that any of the Algerians would understand? The free-kick, once taken, ended up missing its target by some way. Some times you’ve just got to work on getting the fundamentals right first.
USA 2 Portugal 2
Spent the first 15 minutes or so of this match tweeting about Total Annihilation, mostly about how my personal ethics wouldn’t let me pick the Core – they wanted every citizen to give up their mortal bodies and transfer their consciousnesses into machines; my love for Peewees and Brawlers; and the time I was on the brink of disaster and airlifted my commander in a desperate, and ultimately successful attempt to capture the mission objective. During that time Portugal took the lead thanks to a defensive error by the Americans, but the US didn’t drop their bundle and self-implode – instead they started taking it up to the Portuguese. Perhaps they were inspired by Jurgen Klinsmann’s jumper, which looked like Captain America’s pyjamas; one can only speculate that had it been worn by the American footballer with the most generic of American athletic names – Landon Donovan – that it may have caused some supernatural soccer-focused form of Manifest Destiny, leading to the USA conquering the world’s game. Still the Portuguese probably had the better chances, and Tim Howard was kept busy. Jermaine Jones’ long-range strike midway through the second half levelled the game – right after I’d abused him from 9,000 miles away for looking to line up shots like that before the goal, so take that, me – and Clint Dempsey put the US ahead, and the Portuguese looked doomed, if the US can hold their nerve for a few more minutes. They can’t. After the Americans cough up the ball in midfield, in a completely ‘this happens in the Victorian Premier League, not the world’s biggest stage’ manner, Cristiano Ronaldo comes to the rescue right at the death – and perhaps unlike some, I’m actually enjoying what I consider these more realistic injury time periods – with a stunning cross that more or less compels his team mate to score. Like the player (and indeed man) that he will always be compared to, Lionel Messi, Ronaldo is carrying a nation of slightly above mediocre, or otherwise not quite top shelf footballers, upon his shoulders. That Ronaldo does this with his now trademark arrogance and refusal to hide his emotions, compared to Messi’s humility and relative stoicism, only adds to his reputation as contemporary soccer’s greatest super villain; and what are those three lines shaved into the right side of his head for anyway? Turns out they represent the surgical lines on a young fan’s head – the child had surgery to remove a brain tumour. Ronaldo reportedly paid for the surgery. If Ronaldo is indeed a villain, he’s a more complicated one than he’s perhaps given credit for.
Photo by Gustave Deghilage taken from Flickr.