World Cup - the Quarter-Finals

Quarter-Final review. More dreadful decisions.




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 Brazilian?

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 aspirations?

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 boxing venue!


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!



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