|World Cup RAM-ble No. 2 - Mamma Mia!|
Sun 27th Jun 2010 03:27 by Paul Mortimer
England aimed for recovery in their final group game against Slovenia, some of the tournament favourites found their true form - and two of the European heavyweights crashed out dramatically!
You can see the tables and stats on RamZone’s handy guide to the World Cup at:
All the highlights, blogs and reports are on the comprehensive BBC site too, at:
After England’s dismal showing against Algeria, the tournament looked like turning sour and enthusiasm was waning with the disappointment but the action in all the groups ratcheted up a notch from Saturday onwards with all the decisive games now in view.
Holland, playing with plenty in reserve, overcame Japan 1-0; Australia drew 1-1 with Ghana, a result that left Ghana poised to qualify, but a disappointing Cameroon succumbed to Denmark 1-2 and they were heading out of the finals after two defeats.
Sunday saw a sharp Paraguay side beat a drab Slovakia comfortably 2-0 and then holders Italy, who had been held by Paraguay in their opening game, were surprisingly held 1-1 by New Zealand! Confident Ghana beat Serbia 1-0 with a late penalty.
Pressure was mounting on Italy, who like England, had started badly and would need to win their last game to qualify. No such trouble for the imperious Brazil, who saw off the Ivory Coast 3-1. Though the favourites were more functional than purists prefer, they have skill and confidence in abundance - they virtually own the trophy.
Controversy and conflict followed England around, as usual. Philandering big-mouth ex-captain John Terry took it upon himself to assert his views about tactics, selections and formations and picked Joe Cole in the team to face Algeria on Friday.
England boss Fabio Capello blasted Terry, declaring that what the Chelsea player said at his press conference was a ‘big mistake’. Fabio effectively told JT: ‘Shaddap Your Face’ and reasserted his authority.
Rumours spread that some players were unhappy with Capello’s style of management and strict regime expected. I have to say that, given their performances on the field, the way some of these egotistical and selfish players have behaved in their not-so-private lives suggests that more discipline would seem like a good thing.
So we had an ex-captain (who lost the armband through lack of discipline) criticising the manager and regime then having to apologise, after we had the goal-less star striker apologising, after ‘dissing’ the fans who’d booed an atrocious performance.
Meanwhile, the English FA (if they have anyone in charge in that outfit nowadays after chiefs Watmore and Triesman both quit) cast doubt upon Capello’s tenure as England boss, should we have failed to make progress. Funny - I could have sworn that he had just been awarded an extended £6m per-year contract. Total shambles.
Fabio went from flavour of the month to the villain of the piece! After putting the prying paparazzi photographers in their place at the start of the tournament, he now found himself having to put his players in their place. Who’d be an England manager? (Anyone - for the right money - it seems!)
England had problems but these were minor compared to the crisis, fiasco, self-destruction - call it what you will - within the French entourage! With Anelka sent home for insulting the French coach Domenech, the squad had their own little French revolution! They boycotted training and the technical director quit in disgust.
Monday’s games commenced with one of the fancied teams hitting a purple patch to set them up for passage to the next stage. Portugal proved slippery when wet in thrashing North Korea 7-0; they helped themselves as the Koreans’ resistance wilted in the rain, notching up the biggest win in the 2010 finals so far.
It was a one-sided game, in contrast to that historic 1966 thriller when the Koreans stormed into a 3-0 lead only to be undone by Eusebio’s four-goal blast, which salvaged Portuguese pride. North Korea had of course also shocked Italy 1-0 in the ’66 tournament - but left the stage after three expected defeats this time around.
I couldn’t help being jealous of Portugal, simply taking a ‘minnow’ to task and getting the result they wanted. Why couldn’t England ‘just do it?’
Switzerland vs. Chile saw a rash of cards from a poor referee; Switzerland’s Behrami was dismissed before the interval and though the Swiss showed spirit, Chile won overcame their stubborn defence with a late goal from Paredas for the decisive 1-0 scoreline. Spain then beat Honduras comfortably enough 2-0, thanks to a David Villa double.
The nightmare continued for France on Tuesday, as South Africa stormed into a 2-0 first half lead, needing a hatful of goals to have a chance of qualifying. France were expected to be too strong for the host nation but flopped badly. They had Goucuff sent off for an elbowing offence and SA swarmed around the vulnerable French, hoping to score enough goals to qualify.
It was however glorious failure for the Bafana Bafana; though they who won the game 2-1, they were eliminated as expected, along with the despondent French.
France had shockingly finished bottom of their group, and went home in dejection and turmoil. Thierry Henry was handed (geddit?) the task of explaining the squad’s failure to his government. Irish eyes are smiling now!
The farce was not over for France because of the ridiculous behaviour of coach Domenech, who refused to shake the hand of SA coach Parreira, thus contriving to equal the tawdry pettiness of Trees’ boss Billy Davies, who wouldn’t shake the hand of Rams’ manager Nigel Clough at the end of the 2010 Derby vs. Forest clash.
Uruguay had beaten Mexico 1-0 earlier on Tuesday and both of those sides qualified for the last 16 at the expense of South Africa and France.
Unambitious Greece was eliminated after a 2-0 defeat by the relentless Argentina; Maradona’s men were accompanied from their group in the next stage by South Korea, who drew 2-2 with Nigeria, who looked to be heading for elimination too.
All the England hype came down to their crucial match on Friday – Steven Gerrard’s ‘last chance saloon’ against Slovenia in Port Elizabeth. Capello underlined his authority, not bowing to pressure (or player opinion) by keeping Joe Cole from his starting line-up. Milner returned and Defoe partnered Rooney.
At last, England found their muse with a gritty performance to overcome Slovenia 1-0 and qualify for the next stage. A nation sighed with relief! After Defoe broke the deadlock in the first half, England squandered more chances and could never relax; Slovenia had their moments. It was a much improved display.
England’s failure to score more goals (apart from a dreadful failure to take chances in the Algeria game) cost us, because the USA sneaked past Algeria 1-0 and topped the group on goals scored.
Nevertheless, some pride was restored and, mercifully, England lined up in the final 16, with fans and media still hoping for much more. Germany topped their group by beating Ghana 1-0, so England had to face them next as runners up to the USA.
Wednesday also saw the exit of the unlucky Australians, even though they beat Serbia 2-0. The Socceroos lost out on goal difference, having won 4 points as did Ghana. It was a poor reward for a battling performance throughout their campaign, the heavy defeat against Germany being an indication of their lack of strength in depth against the top teams.
Thursday saw drama as holders Italy were dumped out, bottom of their group, after Slovakia beat them 3-2. Mamma Mia! Capello might have been a bit stressed but Marcello Lippi was simply bemused, crestfallen! Whatever problems England had, France and now Italy had them in multiples and there will be major change in both national set-ups.
Holland cruised through with three wins out of three, beating Cameroon 1-0, who left the competition without gaining a single point. Denmark exited too, stunned by two first-half free kick strikes from Japan, who won 3-1. They were to play Paraguay in the next stage - they were held 0-0 by plucky New Zealand, who were eliminated.
Friday’s much-anticipated clash between Brazil and Portugal wasn’t a football feast but a sterile stalemate, with little flowing football and more than a few malevolent tackles, as if favourites were trying to nobble each other! Some of the 62,000+ crowd even booed at the end of a dreadfully disappointing 0-0 stalemate.
In the same group, Ivory Coast had a consolation 3-0 win over North Korea as both teams went out of the competition. Switzerland failed to overcome Honduras in a 0-0 draw and both of those nations went home early as well.
Spain overcame a tough Chile team 2-1, to ensure passage, the Chileans fighting on with only 10-men. Spain will face Portugal and Chile play Brazil in the last 16.
On Saturday it all got much more serious. 16 teams had arrived at the knockout stages and all were just four games away from winning the Jules Rimet Trophy. Uruguay met South Korea, with Forlan and Suarez proving deadly once again, as the former set up the latter’s 8th minute opening goal.
The Uruguayans’ hopes of sitting on their lead were shattered in the 65th minute with SK’s headed equaliser. The impressive Luis Suarez seized the game as he crashed in a splendid second goal with 10 minutes to go. His class was the decisive factor in the tie as Uruguay booked their place in the quarter finals.
In the evening, the USA faced Ghana, Africa’s only survivors from the group stages, so we wanted to see if Ghana would have been easier opponents for England than Germany! Not the case, as the powerful and skilful Ghanaians secured a glorious victory.
They caught the USA cold to take took an early lead but the States clawed back with a second-half penalty. Extra time meant a tense finale, and Asamoah Gyan gave Africa a glorious memory, as he shrugged off the American defence and slammed in a power-drive on the run. The USA responded in typically spirited style but couldn’t force the issue, and they go home.
Later on, the diversion of the excellent televised coverage of the Glastonbury Festival helped keep our nerves at bay; tomorrow, two more teams would be knocked out of the World Cup. Could England stay on track and push on through?
We’d wake up on Sunday again charged with hope and anticipation, hoping to savour England’s clash with old foes Germany as another great victory in the Three Lions’ resurgence under Capello!
Recent memories of the glorious 4-2 1966 victory and the more recent 5-1 thrashing of the Germans in Munich; staying in denial about the painful penalty shoot-out defeats...instead, we could now recall the great qualification victories over Croatia home and away, throwing Slaven Bilic’s over-confidence back in his face.
Could we now stuff Franz Beckenbauer’s ‘stupid England’ comments back down his throat? The England players had their pre-match pep talk written by an old adversary!
The media had occupied themselves with waffle about penalty shoot-out possibilities and the word was that we’d been practising them solidly. What a revelation; all the teams practice, no doubt. Everyone hoped we’d got enough steel and skill to win in 90 minutes, this year, though!
Come on, England!
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