Black Sabbath ?
That's what Sunday June 30th could turn
into for millions of Scots if England are the
last man standing in this World Cup of surprises. That
would surely be the biggest shock of the lot if the country
which expects to win every four years when it is up against
the cream of world football and fails miserably, actually
did win in a year when a lot of the big guns have already
departed and their own expectations were rather modest to
Of course it may not happen. But the form-book has flown out
of the window so many times already in this competition that
we must prepare ourselves for anything. England will have
to beat Brazil to get to the last four first. Usually,
that would be the end of the story. But this time it may be
different. Remember, its only a couple of weeks ago that the
Brazilians were being written off as no-hopers, sure to be
removed by the might of either France or Argentina
who would then fight it out for the right to meet Italy
in the Final. They are false favourites. Installed in
that position by default.
This website rashly predicted an Italy - Argentina Final with
Spain the fancied spoilers. At least the Spanish are
still there and with them, our hopes of a decent summer break.
Barcelona or Barassie? Over to you Senor Camacho.
But back to England. The topsy-turviness of this tournament
has been demonstrated many times but never more aptly than
in this quarter-final clash. In one sense nothing has changed.
It's still the top scorers against the (jointly with the
Germans) meanest defence. But, as guest writer Joe
Harle astutely points out elsewhere on this page, Eriksson's
England now defend with the old-fashioned style the coach
learned during his many years in Serie A. And rather
better than the Italians do it themselves it must be said.
But what about the line-ups? Whoever thought we would see
the day when Brazil dreaded the English dead-ball specialist?
Or that England knew the Brazilian goalkeper was more reliable
than their own? That though is the reality of the coming contest.
People point to Rivaldo and the mercifully rejuvenated
Ronaldo and ask where are the English equivalents.
But superstars do not win World Cups on their own. A solid
backbone of workmanlike players is also essential. Ask
Zidane, Figo, Vieri and Batistuta if you don't
When England 'won' in 1966 they had only three players
who could genuinely wear that much-abused appellation 'world
class' with justification - Banks, Moore and Bobby
Charlton. The rest were good players who knew their task
and stuck to it. Today, Beckham undeniably feasts at
the top table and, of his team-mates, only Owen and
Ferdinand may one day join him.
This is the gist of it. If George Cohen can win a World
Cup winner's medal, so can Danny Mills. Frightening, I
know. For the sake of football an attractive attacking team
needs to win the World Cup. Youngsters all over the world
march to the rhythm of the champions beat. They imitate what
they see as the best. If either of these teams were to win
the trophy they set the standard for the next four years.
'Only one Rio - in Brazil' or 'One-nil to the In-ger-lund.'
For the English this is the second of three World Cup finals.
They feel they've already won it by beating Argentina. Now
they have to do it again against Brazil. They've forgotten
the slight irritants of a semi-final and an actual final still
to come. If they win this one then they reckon its in the
And this, rather than Brazil, may be their undoing. Make no
mistake. Any single one of the teams still in this tournament
can win it. All have some claim to be able to do so. None
can be written off. Brazil? Only team to win all four
games. England? Saw off Argentina. Germany? Unbeaten
thus far. USA? Turned over Portugal. Spain? Best
players in Europe. South Korea? Beat Portugal and Italy.
Senegal? Beat the reigning champions. Turkey? Eliminated
This column fervently hopes that the biggest job facing Tord
Grip and Steve McLaren on Friday evening is checking
flight timetables for Heathrow. But we cannot say with great
confidence that a Brazilian side that struggled to qualify
and has needed the referee's whistle to overcome Turkey and
Belgium will win. This Brazil are nowhere near as good as
their predecessors but England are nowhere near as good as
they think they are. Expect a similar game as Brazil V Belgium.
A similar scoreline would do just fine.
The quarter-finals throw up all sorts of fascinating
permutations. There are only four European teams -
the lowest tally at this stage since a similar number in
1970. Yet we could see an all-European semi-final line-up
for the first time in twenty years. On the other hand the
World Cup semi-finals could go ahead without ANY European
participation for the first time ever. Then again, we may
see the first Europeans to win outside their home continent.
The Final could yet see the first ever meeting between the
two countries with the best overall records - Germany
and Brazil. Or it could be the USA V Senegal.
Let's lay a few canards to rest before looking at the rest
of the quarter-finals. There are those who reckon the whole
thing is a fix. Usually these people are Italians, French
and Argentinian. Rarely are they English, Brazilian or German.
The World Cup has a murky past and the 1934 and 1978 tournaments
were not exactly paragons of sporting virtue. But to suggest
that FIFA wants to eliminate some of its strongest and most
powerful countries who then acquiesce in that decision leads
me to the conclusion that the people making these comments
are upset that the World Cup has replaced their favourite
programme in the TV schedules - the X Files.
The truth is IN here. If Vieri was capable of scoring
in front of an open goal and the French any sort of goal they
might still be there. As for Argentina, their failure
to beat England dashed the hopes and dreams of an entire country.
And I don't imagine it played too well back in Buenos Aires
Then there are those who suggest the competition's early start
has led to too much football for the exhausted Europeans.
Apart from the fact that every European league finished early
to take account of the World Cup this doesn't explain why
Germany, Spain and England - three countries with a heavier
schedule than most - are still there, let alone the Turks,
the French-based Senegal and that large chunk of the Brazil
squad which earns its corn in Europe.
The conspiracy theorists also mutter darkly about the advantage
enjoyed by the co-hosts. As if no other host nation has benefited
from holding the tournament. Uruguay, Italy, England, West
Germany, Argentina and France have all won at home with scarcely
a word of criticism. (OK, one of them lifted the trophy
when the ball didn't cross the line, but that's another argument).
There appears to be an element of condescension towards
the Koreans and the Japanese here which has rather nasty undertones.
Finally, refereeing decisions. Yes, the standard is appalling
and FIFA must shoulder the blame. This tournament is
far too important for untried officials. At least now things
should improve as FIFA have kept on the top officials and
sent the rest home, including Graham Poll of England. This
leads us to the potentially amusing situation whereby, if
England lose on Friday, Scotland will still be represented
in the tournament as Hugh Dallas referees the Germany
- USA match later that day.
And that match is where we expect the Americans
adventure to end. Unwise, perhaps, to make predictions, but
the Germans are the one team who don't look likely to stumble
against 'weaker' opponents. They've been knocked out unexpectedly,
but by other European teams, at this stage in the past two
tournaments and arrived in the Far East expecting little.
Yet if they beat the USA they'll have had their best tournament
since last winning it in 1990.
South Korea too should finally run out of steam against
Spain. Yes, there's the big incentive of becoming the
first Asian semi-finalists and with that game to be played
in Seoul, a good chance of the Final itself. But if we ignore
the biased rantings of the British and Irish media and
Mick McCarthy's touch of heatstroke which must have prompted
his claim that Ireland could have won the cup, the
Spanish look good. Like England they are the under-achievers
of international football. Like England, they must be thinking
they will never have a better chance.
The Turkey-Senegal tie looks too close to call. The
Turks have received little media attention, many thinking
that the draw has been kind to them. We Scots can say a
thing or two about just how easy it is to be in the same group
as Brazil and Costa Rica! Remember too, that the Turks
succeeded where Italy failed in holding on to a 1-0 lead to
knock out one of the co-hosts. They should overcome Senegal
though, unashamedly sentimental as we are, the Africans would
be our preference to go through.
There we have it then. The last four will be Spain V Germany,
Brazil V Turkey and the world will get the Spain
- Brazil final that the cause of attractive attacking
football needs, with the Spaniards winning their first major
An easy game this prediction lark. Look in after the weekend
to see if this page is splattered with humble pie.