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WORLD CUP round-up

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de-VICE #1

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Tears, Despair and Broken Dreams: An Incomprehensive look at the 2006 World Cup.

By Johnny Fox - Tokyo, August 2006.

 

 

The late great Bill Shankly was once quoted as saying that people who consider football to be just a game have no understanding of football at all.

 

And I believe he was spot on.

 

Football is in the very heart and soul of communities, it shapes societies and it drives us forward. It inspires a wealth of emotions and like a drug, once hooked, it is difficult to stop. Football is not just a part of life, it is life. It is unpredictable, your team seldom gets the rewards it deserves, decisions go against you and the chance of success can be so cruelly snatched away.

 

You pin your very hopes and dreams on a 90 minute match after which you are left shattered, broken and empty. If I sound bitter or in any way emotionally distraught it has nothing to do with my beloved England having again been denied dreams of glory in this summer’s showpiece in Germany.

The tournament opened with an extravagant if not particularly inspiring or spectacular ceremony fusing together traditional Bavarian style costumes with a mix of more contemporary tastes. The ceremony did inspire one theme however, that traditional costumes are still a bit gay and that people who dress like Morris Dancers (a reference to the Bavarian bell sock contingent) should be beaten up and hopefully were after the ceremony.

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The ceremony as much as the tournament itself ran smoothly ensuring the stereotype of German efficiency would not be tarnished. The ceremony included a parade of previous World Cup winners along with family members. There was a slight furor from the Japanese commentators when Maradona did not appear with the 86 Winners. Apparently Maradona was embroiled in a dispute in the hospitality lounge when his order of coke hadn’t quite been what he had expected.

 

The Germans got the Tournament off to a fantastic start when German defender Lahm scored a spectacular goal after 6 mins and equally stunning long range effort from Frings (a name which should be used as new kind of potato snack) completed a 4-2 victory for the home nation.

 

If there weren’t to be too many shocks or surprises during the group stages there were at last still some memorable moments.

Argentina’s goal against Serbia and Montenegro after a 24 pass move was quite sublime. Ivory Coast’s Kone, one of the few outstanding players of a largely disappointing tournament, legged it across the entire pitch before finding the net. Joe Cole smashed home a 35 yarder against Sweden in England’s final group game but which, sadly, was not enough to end their Swedish jinx.

 

The Aussies showed their more established hosts that it isn’t just rugby and barbeques they excel in. Their cavalier and somewhat physical style typified their experienced and talismanic coach Gus Hiddink. They battered the Italians for 45 second half minutes before crashing out to a heartbreaking and agonizing penalty deep into injury time. The Italians may have called it justice. Indeed, four years earlier they were cruelly robbed against South Korea (coached oddly enough at that time by Hiddink) by some of the most ridiculously one sided refereeing ever witnessed.

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Australia’s group opponents Japan showed that having a Brazilian coach does not necessarily inspire Brazilian style football. Personally speaking they achieved as much as I expected. Yanagisawa who missed a sitter from 4 yards against Croatia seems to have become something of a fall guy since Japan limped out of the tournament with 1 point. He has recently been blamed for the North Korean missile tests, a small earthquake just off Okinawa and the case of a man in Osaka who lost his toupee after a bar room brawl. Despite having sympathy for the player, he really needs to do what it says on his resume and score. His comments after the game that he was surprised when the ball came to him were frankly criminal.

 

The problem with the tournament was that after a lively opening game it failed to ignite. There were few, if any, classic games and no great players emerged. Some might point to Argentina’s Maxi Rodriguez, Kone of the Ivory Coast, Ghana’s Muntari and Chelsea’s Dutch winger Robben as players who shone but will they be remembered in fifty years? Will they be revered as much as Pele in ’58, the mercurial Cruyff in ’74 and Maradona (Hand of Bastard) ’86. I think not.

 

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Cautious coaching stifled the tournament with teams more than happy to take the game to a penalty shoot out so everybody could say ‘Unlucky’ when they go out. Well bollocks to that. There is no sympathy available when you play negatively and go out on penalties. England’s quarterfinal penalty defeat to Portugal was an abject failure. A failure to pick players in form, a failure to know where or how to play them and a failure in picking players that keep the public and media happy. But I’m not bitter, not in the least!

 

It was, sadly, the more adventurous teams that found themselves on the first planes home and out of the ten players picked for the Golden Ball Awards none really deserved it. Indeed none of the players that I thought stood out made it on this list. FIFA it would seem are in league with the Aristocrats of football, naming only semi finalists on their list. Then again, few would dispute that Septic Bladder has grown fat and corrupt on the spoils that his elite position offers him. Corruption runs rife through football. We only need to turn to Italy to see the shambolic events that unfolded recently as three top Italian clubs were demoted to the second division for influencing the outcome of matches (two of whom have since been reinstated).

 

For me the World Cup did not end on July 9th when Italy and France met in the final in Berlin but eight days earlier. It was midnight on Saturday July 1st 2006 and I found myself cooped up in the British Embassy in the middle of Tokyo. Surrounded by strewn bottles of Czech beer and a raucous if rather somewhat middle class crowd I watched, shouted, cheered, bit nails to the bone, prayed and finally pleaded for an England victory. Sadly, it was not to be and after Ronaldo (whinging, theatrical wanker) dispatched Portugal’s decisive penalty, my heart broke and my life was over (for the next five days at least). 

        

So, as England crashed out again predictably on penalties many were left to ponder why England are about as effective at penalties as a blind man playing darts. Five defeats from the spot in major tournaments in the last sixteen years. I guess some lessons are never learnt.

 

As the Italians held aloft the World Cup trophy on a balmy evening in early July, I reflected upon the tournament with disappointment. Indeed, if my two resounding memories of this tournament are to be Rooney stamping on a different type of ball to the one generally accepted and Zidane’s bull style headbutt on his Italian opponent Matterazzi, I am left trying to put my finger on what, perhaps, went wrong.

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The game of football has reached a point where the expectation and pressure to win is so immense it is crippling the game. The skill, flair and excitement once so synonymous with World Cup football is evaporating into a stage for mediocrity and conservatism. Money, in all its forms, will ultimately destroy everything. When players consider their win bonus before pulling on their country’s colours, we are left in no doubt as to where their loyalties lie.

 

But whatever the future holds for football and for England I will always be in love with it. As England embarks on a new campaign to conquer Europe next month, I will once again allow myself to dream of glory. I guess I will never learn.

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