Brazil 0 Mexico 0
I am woken gently by my old man at 5:10am and asked, the way that substitute teachers are apparently asked, if I would like to come in to work today – which is my way of paraphrasing him letting me know that Brazil vs Mexico is on – and I say no, but I somehow find myself on the couch a couple of minutes later, wearing one of my socks inside out and drinking a small strawberry Big M in the vain hope that it will have the same effect on me as coffee does to coffee drinkers. Thankfully the placebo effect takes hold, and I’m able to come up with the theory that Brazil’s keeper Julio Cesar, in his grey shirt and shorts, has come real close to looking like RoboCop, sans the helmet, visor, moulded suit and requisite firearm of course. But this thought is soon subsumed underneath the event that is every one of his goal kicks, which are greeted to the sound of ‘puto!’ being shouted by the Mexican fans, which makes me giggle like a 10 year old boy; but then again, I still find Perth Glory’s ‘You’re shit! Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrggggggghhhhhh’ chant in the same situation boorishly charming. The Brazilians seem to respond in kind to the Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa’s goal kicks, but their attempts lack the gleeful venom of the Mexican fans’ assault, being performed out of a sense of prosaic duty rather than natural desire. The game itself is fascinating to watch with the Mexicans after a sluggish start beginning to match the hosts, but they can’t find a way behind the home side’s defenders. Brazil looks a bit rattled at times and even lacking in ideas, but both sides are focused mostly on trying to calmly find the opening in each other’s defences, like chess or boxing, though why we need to use either of those metaphors to explain our game I do not know. Are Ochoa’s saves the equivalent of getting out of checkmate? Are Mexico’s long range shots – which is the best they can manage – hopeful big hooks, while the Brazilians’ close calls missed uppercuts? The difference in the end is Ochoa, who is rumoured – where else, but on the internet – to have six fingers on his right hand and requiring special gloves in order to play, which reminds me of an old post-Byzantine-Greek coping mechanism legend that Byzantium’s final emperor, Constantine XI Dragaš Palaiologos, was not killed at the Fall of Constantinople but placed into an occulted state as a marble statue, awaiting the day that a plebeian king with eleven fingers will win back the City for the Greeks and Christendom, and unlocking a special gate only he will be able to. But back to Ochoa. Convincing myself that I know better, but still intrigued enough to pray for a chance close-up of his right hand, I marvel all the same at the fine game he’s having, even if many of the saves are made easier by the shots being fired straight at him. A scoreless draw is the end result of 90 minutes’ effort, but unlike yesterday’s Iran-Nigeria game, there are no complaints and no regrets from this reporter.
Russia 1 South Korea 1
The referee has what my dad has dubbed περαστικές τριχες, poetically translated by Google as ‘fleeting bristles’; in other words, a shocking comb-over. Russia emerge wearing some sort of burgundy shirts with port coloured sleeves, which sweat will turn towards maroon. No sign of any cerise though, with the Koreans wearing a white kit with a thin coloured band at the top of each sleeve, one red and one blue. The game starts off cautiously, which is not a bad tactic in and of itself, but the match then flatlines as a spectacle, with both teams holding back whatever firepower it is they have, the Russians perhaps due to the heat and humidity, the Koreans for perhaps the same reason, as they pass the ball with confidence in the back and middle thirds but send their shots into the stands, where one Korean fan got lucky and won himself an official match ball, and then went on to ruin the moment’s organic unreflective nature by handing his phone to the stranger sitting next to him in order to take a photo of him holding said ball. But to return to the tactical discussion for just a moment and specifically the heat; just to show how pointless such analysis will be, towards the end of the match the commentator suggests that the Koreans are looking fitter, while post-match on the SBS panel the consensus seems to be the opposite was true. What this game needed was a goal, and eventually the Russian keeper, who has been spilling and double clutching everything the Koreans have managed to get on target, spills a shot directed straight at him over his own head and into the back of the net. Now, I was once in such a situation, and as such may be expected to have some sympathy for his predicament, but strangely I do not. The shot that was fired at me when I was keeping in a Phys Ed game out of some sort of mistaken sympathy for my fat mate circa 1999 was a completely different scenario. For starters, I was not a professional, nor was I selected in that position due to my supposed superiority in goalkeeping compared to all my eligible peers. I didn’t even get given any gloves, and the bloke who hit the frankly sadistic shot was not some random student, but the Diet Coke fuelled Phys Ed teacher himself who added to the insanity of the moment by berating me for not getting a hand on the ball, and instead having my hands in front of my face in a desperate act of self-preservation with the ball whistling past my ear. Anyway, the Russian keeper’s blushes were saved somewhat by his team mates waking up and scrounging an equaliser, though I reckon the chested down ball that was part of that sequence went to a player in an offside position, but since no one else seems to have made any similar comment on said incident, I’m prepared to let it go. The draw a fair result for what was mostly a very lacklustre game.
Australia 2 The Netherlands 3
Go to bed at 8:30pm or thereabouts, like someone with a plane to catch early the next morning or like someone in a hospital, not someone who will end up on the couch, and I’m woken up at 1:50am, in time to avoid most of the superfluousness of the pre-match build up but not so late as to miss anything important. The pre-tournament sense of doom is subsiding, and one banana flavoured Up&Go and Kingston later – the grown-up’s chocolate biscuit, or so I have been told – I am alert and ready for whatever the apparently in form Dutch have to throw at us. While some of the naysayers have been vanquished, others from our not too distant past and even some from the present remain to offer their two cents. Pim Verbeek says that not only will the Dutch win, but assuredly Australia will not score a goal. We’ll score two. Han Berger says we play soccer like we play rugby, though he doesn’t specify which version of rugby he means. In the first half at least, the Dutch are not playing 4-3-3 and we look good, slightly rushed in our forward movements but confident and outplaying our opponents. Zeljko Kalac will afterwards say that Mat Ryan should have done better, and the irony of Kalac commenting on poor World Cup goalkeeping is surely not lost on anyone. Craig Foster says the first 15-20 minutes are the most important, as if the rest of the game counts for naught, as if he is reacting to what happened against Chile ahead of all other considerations. As it happens the Dutch score bang on 20 minutes from an error in midfield, but a minute later Cahill equalises with what has already become a famous volley, and amid all his foibles and eccentricities such as his tendency to collect too many yellow cards as he does today, his maddening association with Alan Jones, and his pillaging of the wallets of naïve parents of eager youngsters, where would we be without him, and perhaps he has even surpassed our two-party system of who is our all time best out of Kewell and Viduka. We even manage to take the lead, and fluff a chance to go 3-1 up, but then concede two goals that a team in our position is always at risk of conceding and a team like the Dutch are always ready to take advantage of. The unintentional highlight while all this is happening comes during the second half, when the nation’s collective will manages to both prove the existence of and press the until now only theoretical ‘red button’ based in SBS’ Brazilian commentary box. Down went Foster and Basheer, and all one could hear for a few blissful minutes was the sound of the crowd, until the moment was ruined by David Zdrilic’s intrusion telling us that there was something wrong. Basheer managed to get back online first, while Foster’s microphone continued to have issues, and while this muted Foster somewhat, he could still be heard in the background, the overall effect manifesting itself like being at a match with an obnoxious know it all fan audible five or six rows back, ie. someone like me, but if I can just say one thing before you text the number for reporting antisocial behaviour: no, near enough is not good enough, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take some pleasure in the performance; it never was an entirely either/or proposition.
(Tim Cahill illustration by Bill Rogers, taken from Flickr)