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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Winning Ugly

In direct violation of the unwritten laws of watching football, I thought I'd get away with not hearing the results for the Quarter finals and would be able to watch them at my leisure as if they were live.

My family had upped sticks and headed to Glenburn, a remote Wairarapa Homestead to celebrate a significant birthday on Quarterfinal weekend- how inconvenient that someone was born in the months of June & July! September through to November should be sacrosanct for nookie, lest a nine month return impinge upon the Mondial! But I jest, it was a lovely break from reality being out where no Sky TV could reach me - a rural holiday from the World Cup and all its attendant media. I had it all planned out to catch up on the games though with the help of my family, who have recordable TV. Upon returning to civilisation I eschewed all news reports, and I was all geared and ready to watch all four Quarter finals in ignorance of the outcomes. But I was foiled in the most unlikely of ways- dropping my son at Daycare I overheard one of the teachers tell a German daddy, an 'oompah papa' if you will, that she thought Germany would win the World Cup. Alas I now knew the result of the one game I cared the most about and thought I was the most unsure of the result.

It made a mockery of my efforts to remove myself from the World Cup. When the World Cup is on everyone is a commentator and you cannot escape the punditry. Better to be a social leper or fashion a hairshirt with bristles which spell out: "Telleth me not the score!" than to try and blithely escape the blanket of Football.

As it turned out the Germany- Argentina clash was the most one sided out of all the Quarter finals, and all four games held surprises and upsets. 8 hours of high drama awaited me.

So a quick recap:

The Netherlands finally clicked and bet Brazil 2-1. I said it in a previous post For all their skill and shuffle the Brazilians were profligate. It wasn't a classic match but had enough in it to be exciting.

More exciting was Argentina losing 4-0 to Germany. Who could have predicted that? A rematch of 1986 and 1990, but this time the Deutschland Steam Roller steampunked the Albiceleste back to Sud America. Miroslav Klose scored with two sitters to move within one goal of being the equal highest World Cup goalscorer of all time (Equal with Ronaldo-Brazil). Germany have now belted 8 goals in their last two games; if the World Cup is about momentum and self belief then someone better start etching their name on the trophy now.

Less emphatic but equally as thrilling, in the second half at least, was Paraguay being dumped out by Spain. Three unconverted penalties within three minutes to keep the scores level before David Villa hit the ball off the post with 7 minutes to go. Even then Roque Santa Cruz could have snatched it at the very end but shot straight at Casillas. Spain looked unconvincing despite their metronomic precision with the pass.

But the most drama was reserved for the game which I originally cared the least about-Uruguay vs. Ghana. I knew I wanted Ghana to win to keep African hopes alive, but apart from that I didn't expect much from this game and the first 30 minutes were unspectacular- One way traffic from Uruguay as Ghana failed to settle. But then with 15 seconds to go before half time Sulley Muntari picked the ball up 30 yards out form the Uruguay goal and sort of meandered his way infield before unleashing a stinging daisy cutter which swerved away from the lunging keeper's hands and into the goal. It was a sensational goal, and a great time to score since Ghana had no riposte.

Diego Forlan equalised with a free kick after the break and so to extra time at 1-1.
With the clock ticking down and the tie heading towards penalties Ghana got a corner kick. From the scramble they almost scored but Suarez kicked the ball off the line, the rebound fell again to Ghana and a header went goalward again, straight to Suarez. Instinctively, if your instincts are to cheat, Suarez pushed the ball back off the line with both hands into the arms of his keeper. Chaos! The referee sends him off and Gyan lines up the penalty knowing that if he scores Ghana are through into the World Cup Semifinal. He misses. Ghana lose the penalty shoot out (Gyan scored in that though) and Suarez is a hero, although he is now banned from the semifinal against Netherlands tomorrow.

Suarez called his act the new 'hand of god' in reference to Maradona. It was no such thing, lacking all the subtlety of Maradona's cheekiness.

For me Suarez is the villain of the cup. He had already cheated one African team, his swan dive against South Africa got their keeper sent off and earned Uruguay cheap penalty. But what really gets me is the arbitrariness of decision making at this level. When I first saw the incident I thought the ball had crossed over the line, since Suarez was inside the goal. It didn’t, but when you think that a referee and linesman conspired to disallow a perfectly legitimate goal with their myopia (Eng V Ger) how come they cannot develop selective myopia here? Would anyone have complained if the ref had blown a goal under the pretence that he saw the ball cross the line? It shows that refereeing is far too conservative- preservation of the goal line is the priority, lest that holy boundary be desecrated and a non-goal awarded. However a shift of mindset needs to be undertaken, like with offside calls, the benefit of doubt should go with the attacking team.

However Ghana were their own worst enemies really, they were given the chance to take instant revenge and they failed- had they scored then Suarez would be a villain twice over.

You can't really blame him- cheating and gamesmanship are so ingrained in football culture, the desire to win at all costs has been driven into players from such a young age. It shows how far, or perhaps how little, the game has come since Diego's handball in 1986.

So despite the ethics of it Suarez is a hero and Ghana are out- For me it forces my hand as a neutral. I now want Netherlands to beat Uruguay, and although I'd love to see Spain snap out of their siesta I think the Germans are locked into a winning pattern.

It was a great round of games- three beautiful wins and one ugly one, courtesy of Luis "Ugly Betty" Suarez.

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