Welcome to the Football Tragic NZ

Stay tuned for updates......Football has had to take a back seat and that is tragic

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sepp Blatter in Commonsense shock!

The end of days must surely be nigh!

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has apologised for refereeing mistakes that have blighted the World Cup and says football's governing body will look again at introducing goal-line video technology.

England and Mexico were the victims of blatant mistakes in second-round matches that both eventually lost.

Mr Blatter, who has opposed the technology for years, said on Tuesday technology such as the Hawk-Eye system used in tennis and cricket should be re-examined to determine if the ball had crossed the line or not for a goal.

“It is obvious that after the experiences so far at this World Cup it would be a nonsense not to re-open the file on goalline technology.” the FIFA president said at a press conference today.

However he again ruled out using video replays to help officials with decisions, such as offsides.

In Sunday's match between England and Germany, a shot from England midfielder Frank Lampard struck the bar and bounced down well over the line. The goal was not given and Germany went on to win the second round match 4-1.

Later in the day, Argentina scored from an offside position against Mexico in a match they won 3-1.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Business Time

The All Whites have mostly returned to their heroes' homecomings. Only one of 6 undefeated teams to be eliminated in World Cup history. What a record. Undefeated but unneeded at the business end of the cup.

Watching the round of 16 you can see the energy and purpose that is needed to compete at this level, something that France, Italy, New Zealand, and even England, amongst others lacked. The games are played at a raw pace now, each team 90 minutes from oblivion and scorn, or one goal from glory. It is now a totally different tournament all together, a totally different level, the air as rarified and thin as the high veldt itself.

The winner will be the team that wants it most and has the energy to match the desire, lungs burning as the clock ticks on.

Sentimentally I want Ghana to do well- African soil should equate to African success- if only the 'simplest game' was that simple. I think the World Champion will be the winner of the Germany-Argentina Quarter final. I can't wait to see the stoic nihilism of Joachim Loew versus the haywire exuberance of Maradona, the technical area his own little serfdom, the Fourth official his personal toy and private tormentor. This 80's revival is the final before the final, and whoever triumphs should push past Brazil, who were wasteful against Chile this morning. Sure, they scored three nice goals but their stars were selfish and squandered many more chances. When they come up against a quality side those chances will need to be taken.

The wheat has been seperated, and though the All Whites were chuffed to compete, wheat they are not. Although the land of the long white cloud may now be known internationally for something other than Flight of the Conchords, Jonah Lomu (a tongan!) and Lord of the Rings, now we will be known as a plucky football team who punched above their weight on the greatest stage.

It's business time in South Africa, but the kiwis are needed no more. They can put away the team building exercise t-shirts, and get back to business with the WAGS.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Final Standings for the eliminated 16

Final standings for teams eliminated so far

Based on points, then Goal Diff, then Goals For (as per Fifa)

32 Korea DPR
31 Cameroon
30 Honduras
29 France
28 Algeria
27 Nigeria
26 Italy
25 Greece
24 Denmark
23 Serbia
22 New Zealand
21 Australia
20 South Africa
19 Switzerland
18 Slovenia
17 Ivory Coast

Ipso Facto, we are better than Italy...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Italy vs New Zealand- In a Hazy Hindsight

Wow. It is an amazing time to be a football fan in New Zealand. For ths first time I know what it is like to follow a team in the World Cup, to really follow them, and not have a ho hum neutral reaction when they lose, or have a harsh penalty given against them.

I think I am still too tired, both mentally and physically to give a really good impression of my thoughts about this but I need to comment, to get out of my head and into the blogoverse my thoughts about the other night, no matter how scattered and disjointed.

To summarise: New Zealand, our football team, ranked 78th in the world, held Italy, the World Champions, currently ranked 4th, to a one-all draw in a must win World Cup group game, after leading in the 7th minute and almost sneaking the win with only their third shot of the night in the 83rd minute.


When Andy Barron came on I had an even bigger upswelling of pride. Barron is an amateur footballer from my local National Football Championship Franchise Team Wellington- A local boy made good footing it with the overpaid Italian ponces on the world stage.

I also had to chuckle a little because when the All Whites were substitued in the second half they dawdled and stalled, in direct violation of my complaint in a previous post except this time I loved the fact that our lads' tactics ate up the clock. At one point Vicelich, I think, even shook the ref's hand!

I think the fact that Italy had to resort to the tried and true method acting to con the ref speaks volumes for the resistance that they met, and the kiwi lads will be a little bit wiser for it. It shows how far public expectation has come that we are arguing over a dubious penalty call which robbed us of three points against Italy rather than counting our blessings that the post, Paston and the clock saved us from the full onslaught of Italian wrath. So New Zealand were outplayed, out shot, out cornered, but the history books will now have a little D for draw next to that game, and New Zealand will be more than a curious little footnote in the history of the world Cup.

When you see some of the limp and uninspired efforts put in by some of the more fancied teams (England and France, I'm pointing my finger at you) the All Whites must seem like a breath of fresh air in a fairly stale tournament. They are visibly enjoying the moment, playing with passion and pride. Long may it last.

I think Russell over at No Punts Intended was already starting his Italian research ahead of the game- he is stuck with us for at least one more game. I sent him a reaction but he has yet to post it. While we await Paraguay, here are some highlights, courtesy of Russian website.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Italy Held by Gallant All Whites

An unbelievable result over night in Nelspruit!
Italy 1- New Zealand 1, after an early Shane Smeltz poach was cancelled out by a dubious penalty. New Zealand then hung on with some desperate, but well drilled defence.

This has been labelled the biggest shock of the 2010 World Cup so far. Imagine the reaction if Chris Wood's late shot had sneaked in the post to give the all Whites the win!

More to follow from me later today but if you want to know more just click on any sports website around the globe for reactions.

Good on you New Zealand. Fantastic result

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Italy v New Zealand -Preview

Ricki Herbert has named an unchanged starting line up for tonight's Group F dust up between the Champions of Oceania; the largest continent in terms of square miles, and the Champions of the measly World.

But seriously, what do we realistically expect?

Before the injury time heroics of Rustenburg I might have said an honourable, but sound, defeat. Maybe 2-0. Now I feel we have a chance. A chance to sneak a draw that is. Even a hopeless optimist like me finds it hard to believe that NZ can get up and beat the four time world Champions. But stranger things have happened.

In a friendly before last year's Confederations Cup New Zealand went into the lead four times against Italy, before losing 4-3. There are very few teams who put 3 goals past the catenaccio, 'sliding bolt defence', of Italy. yes, it was meaningless warm up game, and yes, Italy were essentially a B-team, but New Zealand were missing key players Fallon and Nelsen that day, and new found first teamers Reid and Smith were still yet to be born. In that game the aerial threat from set pieces was New Zealand's main weapon as it will be again tonight.

Italy were complacent that day and New Zealand caught them napping. I assure you Italy will be more wary this time. That in itself is a credit to New Zealand and Oceania Football.

An Edinburgh Blogger, Russell, approached the Yellow Fever fan's forum asking for more information about NZ Football. It seems that he is playing a game on his No Punts Intended Blog. The game is called 'Winner stays on' where he chooses a team to support and then switches to whoever defeats them, since being Scottish, he has no team to support in South Africa. Russell has decided to start with NZ-a nice touch since NZ's two goals against Scotland in 1982 contributed towards Scotland's early exit. I answered Russell's call for help and he published my sleep deprived thumbnail sketch of New Zealand football.

Let's hope that Russell is still saying kia ora to New Zealand tomorrow, after we say arivaderchi to the Italian mob.

New Zealand team to play Italy:

Mark Paston (Keeper)

Winston Reid, Ryan Nelsen, Tommy Smith (Defenders)

Ivan Vicelich, Simon Elliott, Leo Bertos, Tony Lochhead (Midfielders)

Shane Smeltz, Rory Fallon, Chris Killen (Strikers)

Here is something to watch while you wait for KO, the last and only time we met the Azzuri:

Winston loves Big Brother

All Whites' goal hero Winston Reid is in foul trouble, to use the American parlance, ahead of tonight's encounter with World Champs Italy. Already on one yellow card, if the tough tackling youngster picks up another he'll miss the final match against Paraguay.

What was Winston's misdemeanour? He celebrated the first NZ goal at a World Cup in 28 years by taking his shirt off. Call out the Thought Police, send him to the Ministry of Love, such crimes require swift punishment.

Look at Winston Reid’s face in the picture above. Does he look like he is deliberately and maliciously thinking “I might waste a precious few seconds here when I have to put my top back on, maybe even a few more if I make a beeline to those supporters over there!” Not a single malicious thought would have crossed his mind, he is simply reacting spontaneously to the buzz of scoring; something that Fifa propaganda says the game should be about.

It's time Fifa changed this directive. I won't call it a law because it is not explicitly stated in the laws of the game.

A directive is when Fifa sits down the officials ahead of a tournament and agree what they are going to focus on in terms of interpreting the laws. It might be to stamp down on diving, or infringing on free kicks. Its a decision to interpret a law in a particular way, which is then set in stone, sometimes for that tournament alone, sometimes it last beyond the tournament. For years now the directive has been that whenever a player takes his shirt off after scoring a goal then that player shall receive a yellow card. But what Law does this directive relate to?

It relates to Law 12- Fouls and Misconduct:

A player is cautioned and shown the yellow card if he commits any of the following seven offences:

• unsporting behaviour
• dissent by word or action
• persistent infringement of the Laws of the Game
• delaying the restart of play
• failure to respect the required distance when play is restarted with a corner kick, free kick or throw-in
• entering or re-entering the field of play without the referee’s permission
• deliberately leaving the field of play without the referee’s permission

It would seem then that taking ones shirt of is either: Unsporting behaviour or delaying the restart of play.

If it's unsporting behaviour then why is so much joy generated from the action? Why is the replay of a player taking his shirt off used over and over in highlights reels. Unless the player is deliberately inciting the opposition players or fans, or revealing an offensive or inappropriate slogan on a T-Shirt underneath it is not unsporting to celebrate a goal by taking your shirt off. In the game where Reid picked up his card the Slovakian defenders time and time again kicked out at playmaker Simon Elliot in a fairly cynical and blatant attempt to slow the play, or even hurt him. Only one of these challenges picked up a yellow card. Elliot was visibly hurt by the attention he received. Who was hurt by Winston's actions? Why was Winston put on a par with the cynical deeds of Slovakia? Why does Fifa use images of players celebrating, of fans celebrating and then punish them for doing so?

So then if its not unsporting behaviour it must be delaying the restart of play! Yet it took less than a minute to restart the game after Winston Reid's goal and the referee added another 20 seconds on for good measure. This is no more than normal for a team who score a late goal and then falls in a heap on the scorer. An orchestrated goal celebration, such as the likes of the Diski Dance which started the tournament takes much longer. Would Fifa have dared sanction the jabulani of Tshabalala and his team mates, as they celebrated South Africa 2010's opening goal?

I agree that deliberate time wasting after a goal, revealing political slogans on T-Shirts or inciting violence by inciting the crowd deserve to be carded and stamped out, but not something as harmless as showing of your six pack.

If Fifa were to stamp out any aspect of the game which infuriates in its cynicism it is the habit of substituted players from a team that is in the lead purposefully dawdling off the pitch to waste time. They shake the referee's hand, cross themselves, wave to the crowd, pull out a prayer matt and face Mecca- anything to gobble up a few more seconds. There should be a time out rule as in Cricket- If it takes a fully fit player longer than 30 second say to leave the pitch then the substitution should be ruled out. Why Fifa punishes one thing, while letting another slide is beyond me.

One argument that would persuade Sepp Blatter to repeal the directive is that watching muscular men run towards a camera is surely a good thing for the ladies. His mind definitely thinks like that already. Remember that Blatter is the person who recommended that Women Footballers wear shorter shorts. So C'mon Sepp, let the ladies get their fix, and let the lads celebrate their goals- Let slip the shirts!

Anyway, I doubt Winston is too worried. A Facebook group has been set up to help him the pay off the 5,000 Swiss Franc fine, and should he get up and score the winner against Italy tonight I hope he throws caution, and his shirt, to the wind.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

World Refugee Day 2010- An Invitation

Time for something unrelated to the hype of South Africa 2010, something a little more grass roots.

Tomorrow (June 20) is World Refugee Day.

It's a good time to think about the plight of these good people, and the paths they have taken to come here. Its also a time to think about the unifying bond of football as the global language. In a totally selfish way imagine what the All Whites of the future will look like once the united colours of the world join their ranks. Here is one such story. Daniel Gebreezgiher is a young Sudanese refugee, who has fought the odds to get a trial at Leeds United, he is also training with the Phoenix. He was playing for Wellington United in the Central League last year. Daniel has already come so far. When he was living in Sudan he witnessed a lot of violence, and his father was jailed for his poltitical views. Says Daniel: 'It was a very dangerous place. I saw people get beaten up all the time, sometimes just for their religion ... I got beaten up for being Christian. I just had to take it like a man.'

I wish him all the best, and remember if it doesn't work out at Leeds or the Phoenix the doors to Wellington United are always open! In fact thats why we concede so many goals...

To commemorate World Refugee Day in Wellington, Refugee Services in association with a myriad of like minded partners including Wellington United AFC are putting on a football fiesta at Newtown Park. I have somehow managed to, once again, wangle my way into the starting line up for the Wellington Invitational XI, along with Sami Yusif, the goal keeper from my team. Sami is an Assyrian refugee who along with his family has made a new home in Wellington.

I invite anyone reading this from Wellington to come down to Newtown Park tomorrow to join in the festivities. Here are the full details:

World Refugee Day Celebration- Sunday 20 June, Newtown Park, Wellington

Refugee Communities from all over Wellington, the Hutt Valley and Porirua have joined with Rotary Club of Wellington, Wellington City Council and Refugee Services Aotearoa New Zealand to plan a fantastic series of events for World Refugee Day 2010!

Join us this Sunday, 20 June, at Wellington’s Newtown Park and Mt. Albert Park for a wonderful cultural experience with two exciting football matches, traditional music and dance, delicious food cooked by the communities, and a tree planting with Rotary Club of Wellington.

Full Programme

10:30am Cultural Procession

11:00am Kick-off Football Match (Asia/America VS Africa)

12:30pm 2nd Football Match (Refugee All-Stars VS Wellington Invitational XI)

12:15pm Delicious traditional food for sale

1:15pm Football Awards Ceremony, cultural music and dance, story-telling

2:30pm Tree-planting with Rotary Club of Wellington at Mt. Albert Park

If you have any questions please contact Teresa Bass, see below.

Teresa Bass

Refugee Services

Aotearoa NZ

Phone: 04 805 0343

E-mail: Teresa.Bass@refugeeservices.org.nz

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The New Vuvuzela?

People keep asking me who is going to win the World Cup. I smile and think, "well if I knew that I wouldn't be here, I'd be down the betting shop taking a punt on race ten at Trentham wouldn't I?" But of course I'm a football ambassador of sorts so I say "oh you know, Brazil will probably be there at the end, and Spain are favourites of course." However both of those teams have had rather uninspired starts,expecially Spain who were upset 1-0 by traditional flat-liners Switzerland this morning. So now Im tipping a Germany-Switzerland final. The Swiss fans will blow the South Africans away with their traditional uber vuvuzelas:

And speaking of Vuvuzelas, has anyone else noticed how annoying they are or am I the only one? Oh, you have? Along with every other blogger, forummer & journo who must by now be painting the V back on their keyboard. Just buy some earplugs and get over it already!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

New Zealand vs. Slovakia- 1-1 (Result)

Well. I was composing a very different post after 5 minutes of the second half when Vittek ghosted in at the far post to give Slovakia the lead. As my eyelids drooped alongside my morale I was thinking about "New Zealand acquits themselves well, but lack pace and class to finish, an honourable defeat etc etc."

The only real chance came when Lochead played in Smeltz, who snatched at the header and put it wide with the whole goal to aim at.

New Zealand looked bereft of ideas and were drifitng out of the game and the tounament as the fourth official held up 3 minutes of stoppage time.

And then in the 93rd minute Winston Reid, outstanding for so much of the game on defence, put away a Shane Smeltz cross to level the scores.

Pandemonium. New Zealand's first ever point at a Fifa World Cup- Tied on Points wiht Italy, the World Champions.

I had to break out the rescue remedy to calm down enough to write this. Thank god for Reid the Danish Maori, well done boys- You have done us proud!

New Zealand vs. Slovakia- 0-0 at Half Time

Well, that was intense.

New Zealand started very strongly and fashioned a few chances, the best a header from Killen which went straight to their keeper. Smeltz had a great chance from a Lochead pass, but it hit the side netting. Once Slovakia found their feet they began to look very dangerous and some nervy moments from Paston in goal meant that New Zealand were relieved when the half time whistle went.

This is very much a game for the taking for New Zealand. They just need to stay organised in defence and Bertos and Elliot need to start putting a bit more quality on the dead ball.

Keep believing.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Game on!

The lads are warming up in Rustenburg:

This pic loaded live from Stadium to Yellow Fever forum, thanks to 2nd Best!

NZ's music channel C4 just started its Whats the theme -C'mon All Whites' with Another one Bites the Dust! by Queen.

You hear that Slovakia? We are channeling the Zanzibar magician! Freddie M and his heavenly vuvuzuela are blowing from on high to spur us on! He had a 'tache like Stevie S- it is written in the stars in our eyes! We brushed aside New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Bahrain, Serbia and the NZFC all stars and now we are coming for you, you half a country! Do you hear me Slovakia?! Your boys will take one hell of a beating!

Erm, think I need a cup of tea and a lie down right about now.

Four Hours to Go

Just four hours until New Zealand play Slovakia. Our first game at a World Cup Finals since 1982.

Injured vice-captain Tim Brown did not recover from his shoulder surgery in time, and is now aiming to make the Italy game.

Here is the team Ricki Herbert has chosen to take the field in his tried and tested 3-4-3 formation:

Mark Paston (Keeper)

Winston Reid, Ryan Nelsen, Tommy Smith (Defenders)

Ivan Vicelich, Simon Elliott, Leo Bertos, Tony Lochhead (Midfielders)

Shane Smeltz, Rory Fallon, Chris Killen (Strikers)

C'mon lads! Your nation is behind you & we expect you to give it everything you have got!

& In Other News

World Champions Italy could only manage a 1-1 draw against Paraguay in New Zealand's Group F opener this morning.

The result is seen by some Kiwi pundits as being bad for the All Whites, since the stalemate will only spur Italy and Paraguay on to thrash New Zealand to make up for not picking up early points.

I think that is a defeatist type of attitude, even if it is realistic. The result means that there is clear air to be had at the of the group should New Zealand pull of a shock win over Slovakia tonight. It also means that if they draw then the group is wide open for anyone to sneak in. The fans must keep believing; we are not there to make up the numbers, we have a right to be there, and until we are knocked out we are still in with a chance, no matter how improbable. Even the stunned Socceroo fans must pick themselves up and dust themselves off after the thumping at the hands of a dynamic Germany. Mental fortitude and resilience is needed by the fans wathcing a World Cup, as much as the players.

And in other breaking news Football has chosen the World Cup as the time to finally announce that it is gay. Thats right Soccer has come out of the closet. This from The Onion: (Man those guys must have a huge legal budget!)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

England vs. U.S.A- English keeping woes continue

One of the most anticipated games of South Africa 2010 was this morning's Group C opener between England and USA. I had a feeling that USA might get up for it and repeat the heroics of their only other game against England in a World Cup.

When English Captain Stevie Gerrard waltzed through the US defence to score after only four minutes I was glad I hadn't taken a punt on USA to pull off an upset. However at 40 minutes a relatively harmless Clint Dempsey shot was fumbled into the net by the hapless English keeper Robert Green.

It used to be that English keepers were the touchstone for international keepers. Calm, strong and unflappable. As 'safe as the Banks of England' they would say, referring to 1966 stopper Gordon Banks. He was followed by a lineage of great English custodians such as Ray Clemence and Peter Shilton. (I'll conveniently forget Bonetti, anyway that names sounds more continental than Cotswalds.)

The number one English Number 1 of the 1990s and early noughties, David Seaman, was known as 'Safe Hands.' But it was Seaman's poor positioning against Brazil in the 2002 World Cup Quarter final allowed Ronaldhino to lob him from over 40 yards:
Maybe that blunder by Seaman started the current malaise between the sticks for England. Seaman's immediate replacement was Paul Robinson, who was well known for his errors, and failed spectacuarly against Croatia in a Euro 2008 qualifier, a tournament England failed to reach:

As for Green, there can be no excuse for his lame save which gifted a vital point to the USA, and lost England all three tournament points. The ball did not dip or swerve in flight, it was a tame daisy cutter which he saw early. English coach Fabio Capello (also not from the Cotswalds) must be worried. Green, who has been guilty of letting in soft goals before, is deputised by the tournament's oldest player, David 'Calamity' James. While James has a penchant for the spectacular he is also known for a tendency for the bizarre, and has been cuplable for some very soft goals over his career. Worse, he likes to wander far from his line, fancying himself as a bit of an outfield player. This has been a rich vein for comedy over the years.

Its not really a joke for England however, how did their keeping stocks drop so rapidly? If they want to win the World Cup again they'll need to shore up their stop banks to avert the flood of soft goals.

Here is Robert Green's howler from this morning; Judge for yourself.

Friday, June 11, 2010

2006 & All That

A Personal History of the World Cup: Part Eight

So we lurch to the end of my reminscence. I have reviewed all eight of the World Cups which have taken place whilst I have been drawing breath. I finished a mere five hours before the ninth installment kicks off. Life for a football tragic is measured in four year cycles. When I look back over how much has changed, even since Germany 2006, I am astounded.

Germany 2006 was made even more poignant in Wellington by the fantastic work that the Goethe Insitute did in using the World Cup to bring German culture to the forefront. The Wellington Director,Christoph Mucher was a football fan and he worked tirelessly to add value to the Wellingtonian's World Cup exeprience. Among the many initiatives they ran was a Football film festival. I had the privilege of seeing the mesmerising German George Best film, Football Like Never Before, a meditiative study of red on green. The Institute also built a Torwand, a goal wall, which they drove around Wellington, setting up at festivals, parties and parks.

The Goethe Institute's enthusiasm was contagious, and for the first time ever I felt I could follow Germany in a World Cup, such was their positivity, such was their optimism. I felt Deutschland's collective sigh of relief and joy when Phillip Lahm collected the ball on the left hand side in the first game against Costa Rica and fired home a goal that deserved to be the first in a World Cup:

Argentina were another revelation. Their fluid passing, and 'total football' was exemplified by the team goal to end all team goals, a series of 26 passes to bamboozle Serbia.

They also produced my favourite goal of the tournament, a Maxi Rodriguez cracker to knock Mexico out of the cup in the second round:

My favourite game was the third place play-off. As in the 2002 finals this so called dead rubber involved the hosts, and was a competitive and exciting match. Unlike in 2002 the hosts got up to win, Germany beating Portugal 3-2 to take the Bronze.

The final will be remembered for an act of insanity which will unfortunately outlast the result for many people. Yes, Italy won the trophy, beating France on penalties after a 1-1 draw. But the 2006 World Cup final will be remembered as the Headbutt Final:

Zidane was sent off in disgrace. He had already scored from the penalty spot during the game, and no doubt would have stepped up again in the shootout, so you could argue that his brain explosion cost France the Coup De Monde.

There you have it; The World Cup from my own very subjective perspective.

Penalties, tears, broken bones, cracking goals and outrageous tantrums- bring on South Africa 2010!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

2002 & All That

A Personal History of the World Cup: Part Seven

Between 1998 and 2002 I fell headlong into the role of a bona fide football tragic. I had travelled to the UK and played park football in Regents Park, London and the Meadows, Edinburgh. I had worked behind the scenes at Ashton Gate, Bristol and Stamford Bridge, Chelsea. I had played Sunday League for the infamous Easton Cowboys. My partner and I had also backpacked around Spain and Portugal during Euro 2000. Eating bocadillas and drinking La Rioja in heaving bodegas, watching the boyish Nuno Gomes charm his way into Portuguese hearts, and Trezeguet snatch the Euro and World Cup double for France with a golden goal against Italy. When I returned to Wellington I rejoined the park football at Nairn Park and it was there that I recruited into a social team; Wellington United Salmon.

So when Korea-Japan 02 finally hoved into view I was ready for my next fix of World Cup fever.

I can't remember anticipating an opening game of a tournament quite as much as this. France, the European and World Champs, up against their colonial subjects Senegal. France were expected to dial it in and pick up the three points. Senegal had other ideas. A man with the implausible name of Papa Bouba Diop scrambled the ball over the line to give Senegal a famous victory, and then he danced a merry jig at the corner flag, one of my favourite goal celebrations of all time. France went on to be eliminated from the Cup without scoring a goal- the worst title defense ever.

This was the World Cup of the underdog- which was great for a neutral from an underdog footballing nation. Senegal, USA, South Korea, Turkey,& Japan all defied the odds and escaped their groups. Amazingly South Korea and Turkey were one game away from the World Cup final- a scenario most punters would scarcely have dreamed of.

But it was Senegal which produced the move of the tournament. An amazingly fluid counter attack against Denmark. To me this is the most perfect team goal. (It begins at 20secs on this video):

For me the final was bit of a let down- yes there was the story of redemption for the buck toothed Ronaldo, who played so poorly in the 1998 final, and yet scored a brace to beat Germany in the 2002 final and crown Brazil Penta Campeao. But to me the Brazilians were unworthy winners, their reputation as upholders of all that is golden about the game was tarnished by the worst piece of gamesmanship in the very first game:

After that disgraceful act I couldn't cheer for Brazil in the final, nor could I cheer for Germany after years of supporting England.

The Third place play-off between Turkey and South Korea defined the tournament. It was a great game, played in front of a roaring South Korean crowd. Hakan Sukur, the Turkish striker who was expected to fire in this tournament but didn't. (Imagine what Turkey could have achieved with him scoring?) Sukur scored the fastest goal in World Cup history, his only one of the tournament:

1998 & All That

A Personal History of the World Cup: Part Six

By 1998 I had started to take an interest in football again. While I didn't play in any organised form I had joined the waifs and strays of park football at Wellington's Nairn Street Park.

Actually I think it was Euro 96 that had got me back into the swing of watching football again. I sat in a downtown bar at 7am, the only customer on a Friday morning and drank Cape Cods hoping that the Czech Republic would see off Germany. Instead I saw the first Golden Goal to decide a major tournament and left the pub at 9am in a red haze.

So when France 98 rolled around I associated watching football with party time. Thankfully I lived in a student flat where the residents enjoyed a bit of novelty. We all stayed up late watching game after game. I remember being at a party when the game between Argentina and England came on. I had to hush the party goers and silence the stereo as Beckham lashed out at Simeone in pure spoiled kid petulance. My friends thought that was the epitome of the soccer hollywood, a tap on the ankles and he's over. But in a World Cup knock out match why wouldn't you dive if someone kicks out at you? So once again a bit of gamesmanship from a Diego sunk England. Actually thats not quite right, since it was England's poor form from the penalty spot which really sent them back across the Channel early.

I also remember the stunning goal from Begrkamp which sent Argentina crashing out of the Cup. The calm finish and delicate touch was divine, to see it live on TV was a special World Cup moment:

I watched the first half of the final at home and then skateboarded down hill into town. The French Embassy in their prescience had booked out the Town Hall and erected ahuge screen. Here I watched Emmanuel Petit (He's blond, he's quick, his name's a porno flick, Emmanuel! Emmanuel! as the Arsenal fans would chant) power through the Brazilian defence to score France's third goal and send the Town Hall into ecstasy.

Afterwards I played football for hours in the adjoining Civic Square with joyous French people who weren't going to bother with work and then headed up to Nairn Park for a kickabout. I was well and truly hooked again.

Here are all three of France's goals in the final:

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Matter of Life and Death

Roll out the hooplah and profligacy, the pageantry and waste! The World Cup is about to begin. Many people in the world will begin to wonder, what's the big deal? Why so much press, why so much jabber?

Well, the simple answer is that, despite the hype and the self-aggrandisement from Sepp Blatter and FIFA, the powers who 'own' the World Cup brand, Football is a global phenomena, the most important and pervasive pastime of our time . Football is the funnel and the fantasy for the hopes of so many impoverished people. In a way it is sad that football has taken on this role; Why not poetry? Why not Opera? Why not gardening? In a way it is also beautiful that football is the world's placebo; for FIFA may own the World Cup brand but they do not own every clay pitch nor every ragged ball upon the globe. It is still the people's game. (Besides those who have no time for the extravagance of literature, nor the frivolousness of art for its own sake, and those who till the soil for work not pleasure still find time to follow the fortune of The Selection.)

So as the vetted stories roll of the tickers it will be worthwhile looking beyond the sanctioned scripts. Take for example this story about New Zealand's disrupted first training session. It seems the scouts did not do their job properly since the All Whites' floodlit training pitch is surrounded by thousands of households which burn coal for their cookers. The smoke was so thick that New Zealand had to cut short their first hit out for fear of lung damage. Surely a big disappointment for Ricki Herbert, but not too serious. There'll be another place, another time for training. The story aired here as the lead story in the evening sports round up, and so it should. The irony is that for the thousands of people who live in that township the very real danger of cooking with carcenogenic coal smoke will not go away when the World Cup ends.

Likewise how is a football fan to interpret the shameful story of South African poor being shepherded into temporary housing, reminiscent of the District 9 refugee camps, to 'clean up' the country ahead of international media and diplomats arriving. The slogan Homes, not Games, used by critics of the Vancouver Winter Olympics is admirable but ultimately futile. The poor will no doubt want both, since they have waited years to see Bafana, Bafana back in the spotlight.

The real hope lies in the fact that the assembled media, sick of being corralled into highly managed mixed-zones may wander far from the FIFA cordons, and beam back some of the real South Africa to the watching world.

Oh yes, Football is important, but the game at the elite level has long been co-opted by political agendas- The Junta used the 1978 World Cup in Argentina to serve its own ends, Mussolini had the Azzurri playing in black shirts instead of blue, the Chilean Junta used their National Stadium as a Prison camp. The temptation for politicians and war mongers to hijack the game is all too prevalant. Will there be another Football War- An encounter where the nomonal tinder is football, but the real fuel is long standing ethnic or dogmatic tension? Will Kim Jong Il use the World Cup as a platform for propaganda; denying his long suffering people even the joy of following their team, a right we all take for granted? Will Obama use the photo ops to divert attention from the horrors unfolding in the Gulf? All that money and energy being channelled into sport when very real environmental and social catastrophes continue to be ignored. How does a football fan compartmentalise that?

There will no doubt be some act of gross charlatanry and cowardice linked to the World Cup, whether some petty despot decides to milk the Cup for glory, or whether some put upon wife takes the full brunt of a husband's fury when his team is eliminated, it is almost inevitable that the World Cup will bring misery to some.

And for all this Football is never spent, there lives the dearest freshness deep down things. Despite the tyranny and terror which may or may not arise the majority of the globe will appear to blithe it come Cup Final day on July 11. Are the poor worried about the threat of war and terror enough to switch the TV off? Not likely, for irreverence is a greater oaf than superstition. And the reverence of the Cup will surely bring a joy which will outweigh the misery.

Football is not a matter of life and death, it is far more serious than that- the World Cup may yet throw more light on the suffering of the world, and help unite people in the understanding that we can all get joy from the simplest game.

Rant over. Game on.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

1994 & All That

A Personal History of the World Cup: Part Five

In 1994 I was 18 years old and football was no longer my raison d'etre. The Rotorua football pathway was not robust enough to sustain kids like me who were not good enough or strong enough for the men's first teams and there wasn't really a league structure in place for youth teams. I still played occasionally for the 1st XI, but we were playing 15th fiddle to the Rugby team and had scant resource or support.

I don't remember much of USA 94, but I suppose I must have kept an eye on it. I remember watching the final between Brazil and Italy, played in the blistering heat of the Pasadena Rose Bowl.

The match finished scoreless and Roberto Baggio, 'The Divine Ponytail,' skied his penalty over the bar to hand Brazil the match:

As one wag has mentioned the 1994 World Cup began and ended with a missed penalty, since Diana Ross fluffed her lines with this kick in the opening ceremony one month earlier:

The irony is that should this happen now the referee could order a retake since Diana's 'Paradinha' stop before the kick has been outlawed for South Africa 2010.

When I think of how the average American would have taken all this hype I am reminded of ths clip from The Simpsons, lampooning a World Cup final where Mexico and Portugal "battle it out to determine [who] the greatest nation on the planet is."

I can just see the US sports fan choking on his corn dog as the two 'superpowers' grind out a 0-0 draw:

Friday, June 4, 2010

1990 & All That

A Personal History of the World Cup: Part Four
Italia 1990 was a huge milestone in my footballing development, and the first World Cup which I actively followed. Between 1986 and 1990 I began playing Football, first for my School, then a club and then as a Junior Representative for Rotorua City. My debut was in 1989, playing in goal against Thames Valley-proudly wearing the Orange and Black of Rotorua.

When Italia 90 rolled around I was a young football obsessive, and by the end of Italia 90, I was even more obsessed. Which is ironic since Italia 90 is widely believed to be the most boring World Cup tournament of all time with a record low of 2.21 goals per match. Objectively I would concur, subjectively I still love it. Any football tragic will tell you that goals are not the only measure of a game's greatness- blood, sweat and tears count for so much as well, and Italia 90 had plenty of these fluids.

The great names present at Italia 90 was like a roll call in Valhalla; Warriors who were legends once but had since slipped through the veil: Maradonna, Shilton, Lineker, Schillaci, Klinsmann, Hagi; even the oxymoron of a veteran debutant in Roger Milla the Camerounian sensation, who at 38 set the tournament alight with 4 goals and a hot stepping goal celebration.
For so many legends this tournament was their last hurrah.

Strangely the name I remember most is the Argentine keeper Goycochea. He replaced the first choice keeper Nery Pumpido when Pumpido broke his leg against USSR. Goycochea's acrobatics impressed me, but his skills weren't enough to stop West Germany in the final.

I studied the keepers more intently than all other positions, applauding saves over goals everytime. My hero for so many years was the English veteran Shilton, the iron giant who was 'pickpocketed' by the street urchin Diego in 1986. In fact by 1990 I was an England fan through and through, years of collecting Shoot! magazine saw to that. I could name every English Player, but probably couldn't name one current All White, apart from maybe Winton Rufer.

So in effect the tournament ended for me when West Germany knocked England out on penalties. Gazza cried for me as well, lamenting the end of my footballing innocence-the era of mullets and pass backs, of strikers rolling end over end when brushed by the fullback with no sanction from the ref, of a time before girlfriends and watching Saturday morning soccer without a hangover.

I still watched the final, but my 14 year old hormones couldn't hack the 6am wake up call so I asked my parents to videotape it for me. I then had to suffer the groans of indignation coming from the family living room as they watched it live; the 1-0 score line just confirming what my Rugby League loving father already suspected- this soccer lark was as dull as dishwater.

Not for me though, I watched that final over and over again.

Anyway four years later in USA 94 a solitary goal in the final would look positively decadent. And four years later Shilton and England were nowhere to be seen.

Keep on crying Gazza: I'm right behind you: