World Cup - towards the Final

The semi-finals. More on the official blunders. Germany and Brazil's records. Motson on form


Comedy of Errors

Let's say it once again: there has been no conspiracy. If it's a "sport" in which results are arranged in advance that you're looking for then take a swatch at Formula One. But what there has been is a gentle nudge in the favour of the co-hosts which has backfired. South Korea's achievements are forever tarnished. This is not a denigration of Asian football. The Korean team itself is a talented outfit, capable of beating most, and of competing with all. In twelve home internationals prior to the World Cup, they won six, drew four and lost only twice; 3-2 to France and 1-0 to Senegal. However, like the Japanese, they were a last sixteen side, nothing more.

The (so far) unspoken tragedy is what will happen to that fantastic support the Koreans gave their team when they eventually realise - as they must - that their team is nowhere near being one of the best four teams in the world. The likelihood is that the support base will drop back to the 4,000 norm for domestic matches. In their efforts to help the game develop, FIFA may well have produced the opposite result. It would have been better for Korean football if they had departed in the last sixteen, with two victories to their credit. That would have been a superb showing. And their supporters would have been spared the ridiculous delusion they are now under, that their country is a match for anyone.

Where it all went wrong was in the allocation of officials in the second round. While Pierluigi Collina was put in charge of Japan's tie with Turkey, no one of similar stature was awarded South Korea's game with Italy. Markus Merk and Anders Frisk were allocated Denmark v England and Spain v Ireland - both matches which were almost guaranteed to be free of both trouble and controversy. Kim Milton Neilsen wasn't given a match at all. Instead they gave this pressure cooker tie to Byron Moreno. The Ecuadorian's previous international experience consisted of Cameroon V Canada in the Confederations Cup and two South American qualifiers as well as USA - Portugal in this tournament.

The hapless Moreno doesn't deserve the vitriol being poured in his direction but he wasn't up to the job and should never have been given it. FIFA must have assumed that the appointment of Gamal Ghandour for South Korea's quarter-final with Spain would have been non-controversial. After all, he was in charge during the marvellous last eight game between Brazil and Denmark in 1998. A little check at their records would have shown that this confidence was misplaced.

Ghandour managed to issue six yellow cards at the Denmark- Czech Republic game in Euro 2000 and five in the Confederations Cup semi-final between France and Brazil a year later. In six internationals this season prior to the World Cup he issued a total of twenty yellows and sent off two South Africans in a friendly in Georgia two months before the start of the Finals. Interestingly, in his only previous match involving the Koreans this card-happy ref got through France's 5-0 hammering of South Korea without making a single booking. With three Spanish names already in his book after the Spain - Paraguay match, this was not a good appointment.

And let's not have any bleating about linesmen or referee's assistants as they are now known. They are precisely that - assistants. The ref remains the law on the field and can overrule an assistant whenever he chooses. Hiding behind linesmen is a cowardly distraction from the appalling refereeing we have all witnessed.

Every World Cup has had some refereeing controversy - that's only natural. I can pick at least one incident from each tournament I have seen without too much difficulty, from the ball that never crossed the line in 1966 to the Beckham sending-off in 1998. Even before that, there was controversy: Puskas ruled offside in the dying seconds of the 1954 Final for instance. But there have been more dubious decisions in this competition than in any other. Sometimes, it seems, more than in all the rest combined. And, try as I have, I cannot think of any team, other than the Koreans, which has had five good-looking goals against all chalked off.

And, in the end, that is what this competition will be remembered for. Not for Senegal's defeat of France. Not for South Korea's appearance in the last four. Put it into perspective. In any other tournament the debate over whether England deserved a penalty against Argentina would have provided a talking-point for years. In this one, it raised barely any interest. Why? Because such decisions were an everyday occurrence. Just three weeks later how many recall Japan's disallowed goal against Belgium? Or the same team's blatantly offside strike against Russia which was allowed to stand?

See what I mean. It's just crept back into your memory now, hasn't it? By my reckoning 21 of the 62 matches completed to date have involved controversial decisions which influenced the outcome of the match. That's one in three. Far too high a proportion to be acceptable. Of the ten games involving the co-hosts, only one match involving each steered clear of refereeing problems. Japan v Turkey and South Korea v Poland. The first of these was handled by the man most people would say is the best referee in the world - Collina - and the second was in the capable hands of Colombia's Oscar Ruiz Acosta. Turkey - China and Turkey - Senegal (the only non-controversial quarter-final) were also handled without problem by Acosta.

So a 33% controversy rating, rising in Japan's case to 50% (75% in total but in one of these games the decision actually went against Japan) and 83% in South Korea's.

One of football's oldest cliches is that the 'breaks even themselves out.' Not this time. But if they eventually do then I would not want to be in the shoes of the South Korean coach come 2006.

Football First

Much has been made of the fact that Sunday's clash will be the first ever meeting between Brazil and Germany in the World Cup. So how come these two titans have avoided each other up until now? One simple answer is that, often, they have been seeded to avoid each other until the Final. One slip-up along the way and any potential meeting is off for another four years.

They've actually come close to meeting several times in the past. In 1954 Brazil were beaten by Hungary in the last eight and the Magyars went on to the Final where they were beaten by West Germany. Four years later this tie came even closer. Sweden's defeat of the Germans in the semis prevented them from meeting Brazil in the Final.

In 1962 they were again scheduled to meet in the Final but German defeat by Yugoslavia in the quarters put paid to that. In 1966 Brazil crashed out in the first round. Had they won their group another Final with the Germans loomed and a semi-final pairing if they had finished second.

1970 was the closest until now. Only Italy's extra time victory in a classic semi-final stopped the two giants of the game from meeting in the Mexico final, And a 1974 Dutch triumph over Brazil condemned the South Americans to the 3rd/4th play-off as Cruyff and Co. advanced to meet Beckenbauer's men in the Final.

1978 was the only post-war Final in which neither featured. But again, they could not have clashed until the Final. In 1982 of course Italy beat Brazil en route before defeating the Germans in the Final. 1986 was one of the rare years that they could have met in the semi-finals but France's penalty shoot-out win over Brazil in the last eight put paid to that. And in 1990 Argentina disposed of Brazil in the last sixteen on the way to the Final against the Germans.

They were again scheduled to meet in the 1994 Final but Bulgaria ousted Germany in the quarters. And another potential Final vanished when Croatia did the same in France in 1998.

This year of course it will actually happen. The two biggest names in global football will meet in the Final in Yokohama. When you consider that, in every post-war tournament bar one, the seedings have decreed that the two could not meet until the last match, perhaps it's not so surprising that they haven't met until now. Maybe the real surprise is that, for the first time, they have both removed all obstacles in their path. But for Robbie Keane's 92nd minute equaliser against Germany in the group stages we would now be preparing for a Final between two teams with a 100% record.

And that is something else that has NEVER happened since the introduction of group stages after the Second World War!

Clash of the Titans

Every post-war World Cup Final bar one (1978) has featured either Germany or Brazil. Until now, none has featured both. Perhaps the biggest surprise in this World Cup full of surprises is that the two global superpowers will at last meet face to face.

OK, it's not Beckenbauer V Pele and there's no sense in pretending otherwise, but it could have been a whole lot worse. Both semi-finals were entertaining enough matches with the Germans and Brazilians the deserved winners. But this tournament, which started so promisingly in the group phase, has run out of steam, brought to its knees by the sheer weight of the accusations, cynicism and innuendo which has dominated the knockout phase.

The quality of football has been affected too. After that glorious free-scoring group phase - best characterised by the second half performance of Uruguay, of all people, against Senegal - safety first has taken over. While none of the quarter-final games were exactly poor - unlike the last sixteen - goals have been at a premium. Of the five matches played since Brazil beat England ( a phrase which I can never tire of writing) only three goals have been scored within the 90 minutes. Two of these have come from Michael Ballack and the other from Ronaldo. That's a good indication of just how hard it is to score.

And of the fourteen matches played since the start of the last sixteen, only three teams have won after losing the first goal. Just once has a team lost the first goal and won inside 90 minutes. That was when Brazil beat England (there it is again). In fact unless the Final and the 3rd/4th match produce nine more goals this tournament will be the second lowest scoring ever. Only the dismal Italia 90 has produced fewer goals per game.

The Germans have kept their cool, while all around were losing theirs. It is an indication of the stench which engulfed South Korea's march to the last four that English football writers like Oliver Holt in The Mirror and Paul Hayward in the Telegraph could openly say that a German presence in the Final was crucial for the integrity of the tournament.

Think about that for a moment. The Mirror was the paper which produced the infamous 'Achtung, for you ze football war is over' headline along with its imitation of Chamberlain's declaration of war, during Euro 96. The Daily Telegraph has a habitual dislike of all foreigners except for the English-speaking sort (like the Canadian who owns the paper) and hasn't forgiven the Germans for turning up late at Waterloo, let alone the events of the 20th century!

Yet here were the chief football writers of these two bastions of sporting xenophobia ( and in the case of the Telegraph, any form of xenophobia), urging their readers to support the Germans against the 'heroic outsider' Korea. If that doesn't tell you all you need to know about the South Koreans presence in the last four, nothing will. Whether many of their readers rushed out to buy lederhosen is another matter entirely.

I wrote previously that Italy only had themselves to blame for their elimination by the co-hosts - that the sitter Vieri missed would have settled things in their favour. Now, after the Spain debacle, I am no longer sure. Nor can you be. Is there anyone who can stand up and say, hand on heart, that if Vieri had hit the net, that they know for certain that the goal would have been allowed to stand?

Consider also what the reaction would have been - in any other circumstances - to the appointment of a German-speaking Swiss referee to the Germany - South Korea match? 'Fix', 'Foul' 'Unfair.' The headlines are easy to imagine. Instead, there was a collective sigh of relief at the news that Urs Meier had been handed the fixture.

And - the booking of Michael Ballack apart - it was a largely uncontroversial affair. A single-goal victory for Germany was a fair result. It was also the result that should have been entered into the record books after the co-hosts matches with Italy and Spain. For the third time in this competition the Koreans were beaten. For the first time, the result stood.

The second semi-final, between Brazil and Turkey, produced one of the best games of the competition. As predicted, the Turks weren't afraid to have a go and although Brazil were clearly the superior side, the result was always in doubt right up to the final whistle. Turkey became the first team to prevent Brazil from scoring more than once in a game - there being no dodgy penalties handed out this time.

Brazil took the lead around the same time as in their previous match (in which, in case you've forgotten, they beat England), but the response from the Turks was as tigerish as the English were toothless. And Turkey had to cope with eleven Brazilians on the pitch as well.

This Turkish team can be a joy to watch at times. Their temperament remains suspect but their passing is sweet. I hope this performance was watched closely by Messrs. Beckham, Ferdinand and Lineker. Beckham has said that this England team can win a major trophy. Ferdinand has actually pledged they will reach a major final within the next four years. And Lineker was less than his usual modest self when he proclaimed, just after Brazil beat England, that the English would have fancied a final against Germany or Korea.

No mention, you will note, of the Turks. On the evidence of watching both sides against Brazil, the neutral would have to say that the Turks look a better side than the English. Something Beckham and Ferdinand would do well to remember in their European Championship qualifying matches when the two teams will clash. As for Lineker assuming that England would have beaten Turkey in a semi-final, it's not the first time such assumptions have been made by English commentators. It's just surprising that Gary Lineker - normally a football realist - should have made this observation.

Both 2004 and 2006 are an eon away in football terms and while we've all seen English pundits counting chickens before they've hatched, this is the first time they've done so before the eggs have been fertilised. Seeking to deflect blame from tactical errors, personal blunders and a poor team performance after their quarter-final exit (when, in case it has slipped your mind, they were beaten by Brazil), the FA's PR team rushed into action, pushing the line that this was a 'young team' ready to scale the heights in two, or four, years time.

A grateful English media greedily swallowed the bait. Alastair Campbell could do worse than recruit the FA spinmeisters into No.10. They may even be able to explain away that quarter-final result as a 'moral victory' whereas of course in reality England were beaten by Brazil.


Bon Mots

Joe Royle still leads the way in the race for 'Quote of the Cup' but he's facing a challenge in the home straight. Now that John Motson has dispensed with all the breakfast cliches, he's beginning to show his true form. Motty came up with two good ones during the Brazil v Turkey semi-final. First, he told us that the Turks had "reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2000... four years ago." He followed that up with "sometimes the Turkish players have their Christian names on their shirts."

Class. But watch out for outsider David Pleat. Given his well-documented troubles of a few years ago, who better to tell us that Hugh Dallas had "missed a hand-job on the line?"

Some of the quotes from our old friend anonymous have been good too. "According to 'The Sun', Ronaldinho made love eight times in one night. So why be surprised when he lobs Seaman from 40 yards?" And, of course, " with a name like Seaman, you'd have thought he would have seen it coming."



Back to homepage Click here to download sample pdf files BLUE-WEB INTERNET DESIGN