Côte d’Ivoire 2 Japan 1
Gary Bloom is commentating this match, and all I can think of is how much this feels like 1994, back when Bloom was the voice of the Serie A show that SBS used to play from 10:30 to 11:30, before On The Ball and then off to Middle Park or Olympic Village, and then home for the replay of whatever game was the NSL match of the day. It was, truly, a golden age. But this is no longer 1994, it is 2014, and the NSL is gone, most free to air soccer is gone, and SBS has buried its flagship soccer talking heads show behind five-year-old quote cult unquote US pay TV shows – and just in case you were in any doubt about which year it is, Ivory Coast and Japan are in the World Cup finals as now regular participants, although Gary Bloom makes sure to point out that he is under a FIFA directive to call Ivory Coast, Côte d’Ivoire, though he manages to sneak in the Anglicised name from time to time. There are people out there who think Asian teams can’t finish, and that’s at least partly why Australia has been able to qualify for recent World Cups, but Honda goes a little way to putting that theory to bed with a cracking strike early on. Having made that emphatic statement though, Japan proceed to withdraw from centre stage, making do with letting Les Éléphants gradually work their way to a dominant position. The Africans’ begin to botch chance after chance – and why are they referred to as ‘the Africans’, and the South American teams as the ‘South Americans’, but you never hear a European team referred to as ‘the Europeans’? And will we ever hear Australia referred to as ‘the Asians’, which would make Paul Keating smile and make Pauline Hanson cry into her corn flakes? Two headed goals in two minutes – Bony’s a beautiful glancing header, Gervinho’s through the diving Japanese keeper’s hands who had otherwise done well during the rest of the game settles this, and even if he is not at the centre of any of these events, Didier Drogba, on as a substitute, walks across the grass like he owns this stadium, and the crowd duly acknowledges his majesty. All this is done to an insistent and unusually syncopated beat from the crowd, some sort of Afro-Asiatic industrial pulse, like one of Xinlisupreme’s quieter tracks, just without the complete and unending sense of dread and deliberately terrible production values.
France 3 Honduras 0
The clock shows one thirty something AM, and there’s a decision to be made, and unfortunately for the Swiss and Ecuadorians, the decision is more sleep. Later, the clock shows six twenty something AM, and unusually for me, I decide to stay in bed for another ten minutes – probably because of this hollowed out feeling due to South’s great run to start the season coming to a crashing halt has now infected me on a much deeper level than I should have let it, and is threatening to manifest itself as generic existential malaise. Once I get up, the signs of recovery from said malaise are nowhere to be found, as what could have become any one of a number of nutritious or at the very least appropriate breakfast options becomes the rest of the big bag of plain corn chips that was sitting on top of the microwave and the remainder of a bottle of Pepsi. A breakfast of champions it isn’t, but Honduras are already 2-0 down, and the big H on their chests only serves to remind me of Hakoah, unaware as I am until I hit Twitter that one of France’s goals was adjudicated on the basis of goal line technology. As Tony Martin once opined on the old Martin/Molloy show, the future is here, and it’s not here for a haircut. Benzema makes it 3-0 with a powerfully hit shot from a tight angle, and as the old man makes the obvious statement that France’s side seems to be entirely African – a comment made in Greek, and which therefore loses some sort of cultural-linguistic contextual nuance and probably appears more racist than it actually is, perhaps a situation Scott Chipperfield can empathise with – I wonder, is Benzema African or European? Is the French national team African or European? The answer seems to be dependent on how well they’re doing, which when one thinks about it, is not much different to what Mark Philippoussis and Bernard Tomic have had to go through, including the complicating fact that both the sometimes Australian tennis players and sometimes French footballers come across as complete knobs a lot of the time.
Argentina 2 Bosnia Herzegovina 1
Who are the Bosnians? A few years ago I was in a compulsory class during my honours year, with a woman who wanted to conduct research on people from that contested area who rejected pretty much any ethno-nationalist label that the world wanted to foist on them – not Croatian, not Serbian and certainly not Bosnian, especially if their Bosnianess was dictated solely due to their being Muslim. I never found out what happened to that woman or her research, but it almost seems fitting that the badge on the chest on the team in royal blue is of a map; maps being of the utmost importance in this region, and in this case perhaps the only way of establishing who and what this team represents, as a sort of reconstituted Yugoslavia for the 21st century. I don’t know if ethnic and religious affiliations have an effect on squad selection, but the solution as to how to divide and sort out the mess of the break up of Yugoslavia could almost have come from a 1920s (or 1950s, or even early 2000s) Australian soccer administrator – here’s your district, and here’s who you’re going to play for. And just to make sure we’re not picking on only one side of this ledger, the Argentines – or is that Argentineans? – are also on the sport and politics bandwagon. In the stands at the end where Messi will score his wonderful goal, there’s a banner quite obviously making a point about Islas Malvinas; clockwise from there, in the bottom deck above a sponsor board, every time the ball goes into camera shot, a group of Argentinean fans will unfurl a banner asking for justice for Nicolas Pacheco, a Racing Club fan allegedly killed by barrabravas who also supported Racing Club. It’s easy to ask for politics to stay away from sport and vice versa, but it is the way it is. Thank goodness then that there was a game at hand, one of the most anticipated at this tournament for its political dimension but also for what Argentina and Lionel Messi in particular would produce. It took just minutes for Messi to make his mark, when his free kick from out wide flicked an Argentine head and ended up hitting an unsighted and unready BiH defender, and ending up in the back of the net. From then on the Bosnians more than held their own, dominated even, but their eagerness became urgency which became missed chance after missed chance. Argentina made it 2-0 midway during the second half when Messi, who was having an ineffectual game apart from his free kick, decided that now was the time to play a one-two with a team mate, skip past a couple of defenders and shoot into the bottom corner. The game fell into a lull after that, until Bosnia and Herzegovina pulled one back with five minutes to play but they were, like so many teams already at this tournament, visibly spent by this stage, typified by a fluffed cross on the byline. Maybe if they’d scored 15 minutes earlier, things would have turned out differently. Now, the only question left unanswered is, who exactly are the Herzegovinans?