Chile 3 Australia 1
Unlike some other extant South Melbourne fans – a very small minority I assure you – I have no regrets about continuing to support the Socceroos despite the events of the last ten years, even if I have no idea who the hell most of them are any more. As mentioned in a recent post on my personal blog, most of them exist on pay television – if they exist even there – and I do not have pay television, and buggered if I’d watch them on that anyway even if I did have it. Still, I know who the coach is, even if he looks stupid without his 1990s Greek-Australian nightclub beard with goatee and without a typically unflattering 1990s Australian soccer tracksuit. Frank Arok didn’t care about looking stupid in a tracksuit, or even growing a crazy looking beard when the time came for it. Speaking of pride, if said national coach happened to have played in a national championship winning side with the father of one of the current players, wouldn’t you try and at least mention this once for the sake of creating a narrative pointing to the richness of our soccer history? Anyway, like most Australians, I was soon forced into making a Sophie’s Choice of either turning on the mute button or gritting my teeth and dealing with the unique comedy stylings of Basheer and Foster. I choose the latter, partly because there are other people watching this game with me as well, and at least Basheer is on his best behaviour today. But Foster is soon running amok, being unable to choose between being a commentator, a coach or a fan. This reaches its absolute lowest point, not when he tries to perform either of those three roles either separately or simultaneously, but when he whistles – not once, but twice. At first I think someone in the room with me has done it, but two of the people in the room don’t even care about the game, my dad points out he has false teeth making whistling impossible, and I know I haven’t done it, so it must be Foster. All this on top of the nightmarish result of the first 15 minutes, in which I can excuse the first goal somewhat, but the second was quite obviously straight out of an under 9s or Skillaroos or Optus small sided football, or whatever newfangled unstructured yet still structured result of Dutch mango sucking the little ones are doing these days. Like you, I think we’re doomed to cop an absolute pasting from here on in, though I’m managing to keep it under Paul Wade levels of hysteria. But then the most predictable thing of all happens, and Tim Cahill scores a header. From there on we, within the bounds of reason and our obvious limitations, are quite superb. Aside from Cahill, Leckie looks unbelievable, Davidson gets over his initial stage fright and plays with the heart and dash of, dare we say it, his old man, every player in gold shirts and inexplicably gold shorts has grown a foot, and only Tommy Oar looks all at sea, which I would never have picked. We get close on a number of occasions, we have them on the ropes, and though we don’t get the win or a draw, at least we’ve re-found that quintessential Australian sporting necessity – having a red hot go no matter the circumstances, regardless of the opponent – which Verbeek and Osieck tried their best to destroy over the past few years due to their own unnerving and infectious fear of failure. It’s not much to go on – and we may still very well get pantsed by Spain and the Netherlands – but it’s a start.
Uruguay 1 Costa Rica 3
I arrive on the couch just after halftime, with the old man reluctantly telling me that Greece had been beaten 3-0 by Colombia, playing shithouse football, and with Costa Rica down 1-0 it seemed that everything was situation normal. But then Costa Rica find some sort of resolve and score, and score again, and then score once more for good measure. Uruguay in its own mythology and depending on the situation and the opponent, is a giant minnow or a small giant, with an infamous self-perception that they have the God-given right to be more than a nuisance to big teams while also being the destroyer of lesser teams. But sometimes when everything goes wrong, everything truly goes wrong, and when you need just one thing to go right – and in soccer, even when everything goes wrong, sometimes you need only that one good moment to change the match – nothing goes right, not one thing, so Maxi Pereira decides he wants to get sent off and achieves that goal. Costa Rica may not win the World Cup, they may not even get out of the group, but in forty-five minutes they justified the notion of this tournament being more than Europe and South America and Mexico, as well as their own football being more than just Paulo Wanchope.
England 1 Italy 2
For once England arrive at a major tournament where their fans and their media are apparently on the same page as with the rest of the world – that the English national team is at best a minor power. The 1966 World Cup was 48 years ago; Euro ’96 now 18 years ago. So maybe this young group of players with the odd older head can be allowed to do their best, without unreasonable expectation, and in this game they’re at least playing without fear. Italy’s defence looks a little wonky, but England can’t get inside, its mostly long range shots which mostly aren’t even on target even if they’re close. Italy are patient, Pirlo is directing traffic in his usual manner, but the crosses from the right to Balotelli are poor. Martin Tyler, a great commentator whose only failing is over-exuberance during England games – he’s only human after all – is keeping himself in check here, and proffers the obvious but nevertheless profound yin and yang statement that Italy are trying to pass their way to a goal, while England are trying to sprint their way to a goal. If you have the competence to pull your desired approach off, neither approach should be out of bounds – and isn’t this what the World Cup is about, seeing many styles up against each other? Italy open the scoring with a long range shot – there’s no sprinting, no intricate passing, just a Zen-like (as noted by someone on Twitter) non-intervention by Pirlo who dummies and leaves the ball for Marchisio’s shot – perhaps the best getting out of the way since Milan Baros got out of the way of Vladimir Smicer’s shot in the 2005 Champions League final. But England find a way back straight away, Rooney doing his one good thing for the game after receiving a killer pass from Sterling, and then crossing to Sturridge for the equaliser. 1-1 at half time, and all I can think of apart from how great this game and this tournament have been so far, is what is Chiellini doing wearing different coloured boots on each foot? It’s the logical conclusion of allowing anyone to wear coloured boots in the first place. Now to be fair, Super Mario is doing it, too, but he’s Super Mario and everyone else – you, me, global superstars and park footballers and perhaps especially Chiellini – are not, and that’s why he can get away with that and his audacious chip which I was so willing to go in, but alas was cleared off the line. There was a saying on the old World Game Forum, ‘Idalee always getta da goal’, and so it comes to be, with a minor variation on the cross-it-to-Super-Mario motif providing a major variation in outcome. Italy then proceed to suck the life out of the game as only Italy can, slowly and surely, and it occurs to me that Italy are like Miles Davis, the epitome of soccer cool, completely unselfconscious and effortless, when every other major footballing nation tries to find ways to flagellate itself not only for results but for style, whereas the Italians found their groove so many years ago and have seldom if ever wavered, not caring a jot what the rest of the world thinks. They’re as predictable as SBS crossing to Leichhardt or Lygon Street for footage of all the Italian bandwagoners coming out of hibernation. But back to the essence of cool, namely Pirlo, who has not broken a sweat all game, who hits a free kick of such mesmerising grace that Joe Hart goes one way as the ball goes the other, only for it to hit the crossbar and go out. It’s in this moment that I realise that no one has complained about the official World Cup ball, not even once, and this tournament just went up another notch because of it.