10-MAN BRAZIL 2 ENGLAND
The 'Yellow Cowdenbeath' came good when
they needed to and sent England out of the competition.
It's often claimed that you need luck to win major tournaments
and in their quarter-final against Brazil, the English
were handed out two large slices of good fortune that they
failed totally to capitalise on. After dealing admirably with
sustained Brazilian pressure for half the first period, a
rare defensive error by Lucio allowed Michael Owen
to step in and fire England ahead.
A dazzling piece of ball control from Ronaldinho set
up Rivaldo for a spectacular equaliser just before
the break. Then, early in the second half, Ronaldinho's free
kick from 42 yards out totally deceived David Seaman
to put Brazil ahead. Debate rages as to whether it was intentional
or not. Suffice to say that when David Beckham scored
against Wimbledon from the halfway line, there was no such
argument. Beckham was lauded for his genius. So why not
The second piece of luck arrived seven minutes later when
Ronaldinho - far and away the best player on the pitch - was
ridiculously sent off. But even this failed to inspire England.
With over half an hour to play their best effort on goal came
from full-back Danny Mills. That says it all. Both
Belgium and Turkey gave Brazil a harder game than did England.
All that was left to do was to wait for John Motson
to utter those eight little words that mean so much: "And
England are out of the World Cup."
So once again England return, victims of their own identity
crisis. A draw with Sweden and they are rubbish. Victory
over Argentina and they are world-beaters. 'Twas ever
thus. This time they say they were beaten by the best team
in the world and they take solace from that. Brazil may indeed
go on to win this tournament but the English attitude can
best be summed up by the Guardian's front page headline:
'THIS TIME WE WASN'T ROBBED .' No, they weren't. But
nor were they last time. Nor the time before that or the time
before that etc. When even the leading left-liberal daily
newspaper falls prey to these delusions that England can only
be beaten by either the very best or by chicanery, what hope
is there of them ever developing a rational approach to their
A good barometer of that will be the attitude displayed towards
David Seaman in the stands next season. Will he receive the
consoling embrace of a nation grateful for his past efforts
on their behalf? Or will it be the Beckham treatment with
his partner's sexual predilections the subject of alleged
'good-natured humour?' We shall see.
While Seaman does not deserve the scorn of a nation he has
served so well, it is worth noting that this keeper - who
signs autographs as 'safe hands' - has a track record
of bad goalkeeping errors in major matches going back over
a decade. Gascoigne's 35-yarder in an FA Cup semi-final
in 1991. Ronald Koeman's goal for Holland two years
later. Nayim, as the song goes, 'from the halfway
line' in the Cup-Winners Cup Final. Dieter Hamann
for Germany in the last Wembley international. And, worst
of all, Patrick Kluivert's shot which trickled through
his legs during Euro 96 to eliminate Scotland
on goal difference.
If the English had not built up this image of their goalkeeper
as a Superman, then his vulnerability to kryptonite would
not come as so great a shock. That all goalkeepers make
mistakes is a truism. Hitherto, the English have liked to
believe that their own are immune - despite all the evidence
to the contrary as Kenny Dalglish could tell you after
slotting the ball through Ray Clemence's legs.
The English era of goalkeeping supremacy ended with Peter
Shilton. Today they struggle to find a decent English
keeper with a Premiership club. Which is why they have continued
to rely on Seaman for at least a year more than they should
have. The man does not deserve to be vilified. But it would
be nice if, at last, they stopped making jokes about ours.
Don't hold your breath.
Three out of four quarter-final predictions
right on this website. By the standards of this World
Cup, that's really good going. But it should have been four.
And only the cloth-ears at the BBC seem to think otherwise.
At least the ITV pundits admitted that the South
Korea - Spain clash was the latest howler in the never-ending
series of official blunders at this World Cup.
"It appears that you have to score three times more
than South Korea to beat them" said Guillem Balague
on Sky Sports and it's hard not to disagree with
the Spanish journalist. In fact it is getting to the stage
where it is hard to know what a team has to do to get a goal
against South Korea to stand. (Answers, on a postcard,
to FIFA, PO Box 85 8030, Zurich, Switzerland) Once again,
poor decisions have cost a team dearly at this World Cup.
It isn't intentional but can anyone any longer doubt that
this competition has been utterly devalued by the sheer number
of mistakes. It is no longer a knockout tournament more
of a lottery.
Forget all the 'romantic' nonsense spouted about South
Korea reaching the semi-finals. They are undoubtedly a talented
team. But they have enjoyed ridiculously good fortune throughout
the competition. They are certainly not one of the four
best teams in the world.
Although they put up a good performance against Spain, this
match should never have gone to extra time let alone penalties.
The Spanish had a perfectly good goal ruled out during
the 90 minutes and another in extra time. Even during
the penalty shoot-out the Korean goalkeeper was several yards
off his line before Spain's crucial missed spot-kick.
Following on from the Italian match, this is just too much.
Games like these should be in the hands of a Collina
or a Frisk - men who are not afraid to make a decision
that displeases a hostile crowd. It is always a possibility
that the referee in the semi-final against Germany
may over-compensate for what has gone before by being extra
harsh on the Koreans. That the same happened to Brazil
is the only possible explanation for Ronaldinho's bizarre
dismissal against England.
One thing is for certain. FIFA officials will be hoping desperately
for a Germany - Brazil final. The thought of a first
ever confrontation between world football's two superpowers
will have the dollar bill signs registering in Blatter's
eyes. At the same time they will be running scared of a South
Korea - Turkey contest. This is similar to 1994 when Sweden
and Bulgaria got to the last four and FIFA's prayers
were answered with a Brazil - Italy final which turned out
to be the second worst ever - only the 1990 match was poorer.
If it is to be Germany and Brazil it is just a pity that their
first meeting will be between teams nowhere near the standards
of their illustrious predecessors.
BBC pundit Mick McCarthy suggested that the
Spanish players shouldn't have protested to the referee following
their defeat by South Korea and learn to take defeat with
dignity. He couldn't possibly be related to the manager of
Ireland with the same name who reacted to his side's loss
to Spain by claiming the better team had been eliminated and
that but for that, Ireland could have won the World Cup, could
he? Surely not?
Controversy also dogged the game between Germany
and the USA, refereed by Scotland's Hugh Dallas.
He failed to spot a German arm preventing the ball from crossing
the line for a US equaliser. In fairness to Dallas it was
a hard one to detect and there was no attempt to play the
ball. It was ball-to-hand. Even so the Americans must feel
genuinely aggrieved. A cynic would suggest that it was
payback time for getting away with a blatant handball in their
game with Mexico.
Once again, the Americans confounded expectations and were
desperately unfortunate to lose 1-0. Sympathy for the USA
should be tempered by reminding ourselves of what it would
have been like had they won the competition. A nation that
is not the most modest on Earth when it comes to sporting
success would surely have enjoyed ramming down our throats
the fact that they were the best at a game they don't even
take seriously. That would have been too much to take from
a country where most folk don't even know the name of their
national coach. It's not stretching the imagination too
far to suggest that if you mentioned the name 'Bruce Arena'
to an American that he'd think you were talking about an Australian
The 'cinderella' quarter-final between
Turkey and Senegal was the only one of the four
not to be marred by controversial decisions. The Senegalese
did have the ball in the net early in the first half but,
for once, the offside decision was clearly correct.
An entertaining match in the opening period, the game degenerated
after the break. The Turks enjoyed lots of possession but
made few attempts on the Senegalese goal. The African team
seemed tired after their recent exertions. The Turks grabbed
a 'golden goal' early in extra time to deservedly
clinch a semi-final against Brazil.
There have been suggestions that the Turks have enjoyed an
easy path to the last four - usually emanating from supporters
of teams that have already been eliminated. Well, you can
only beat the sides you play against and thus far the Turks
have done just that. They have also played Brazil once already
in this competition and took the lead in that game, eventually
losing to a penalty that should never have been awarded They've
earned the right to a rematch.
The English media got one thing right. There will be a
pony-tailed keeper in the semis. They just didn't realise
he would be a Turk!