Same song different verse or rise of the rank referee
The best thing that can be said of today is that it was consistent. Having set the standard yesterday, we continue to see shocking decisions and even more shocking play. I can't say that this world cup is as bad as say 2002. It's not as dirty. I can't say it's as strange as Euro 2008, it's less inexplicable. No, World Cup 2010 is the strangest world cup I have ever witnessed . We've had the atmosphere and eardrum destroying vuvuzelas, we've had a ball that never ever curls down, we've had weather I never associate with Africa or any country that much south or low on the ground. We've had big Euro sides dissolve before our eyes and now the final straw, the incompetent ref. I thought that these low creatures had been rounded up and sent to Sunday side parks after 2002, but no they are back and doing reputation destroying damage. At it's core the original problem was the fact that the local librarian from Ulan Bator or the used car dealer from Uttar Pradesh was allowed to officiate a match with multi million pound contract professional players. These superstars of football were going to at best over awe the amateur referee and at worse bring out the autocratic demon residing in each and every one of us. I too will be able to book a star. I insignificant full time accountant who has never officiated a professional match, will show the big star just who's boss. You combine that sort of thinking and you get the mess we witnessed today. More on that as and when we get to it.
Slovakia v Paraguay was everything I expected it to be. An outclassed Slovakia only ever got close enough to goal once and even than it wasn't anything to break a sweat over. Slovakia could have easily been told to stay home and been replaced by the Irish for all the impact they've had on the tournament. Paraguay and it's roster of Premiership and other world league players ran circles around Slovakia eventually scoring 2 goals to knock the stuffing out a weak side. Paraguay should be considered strong favourites to go far in the tournament, one of many South American teams expected to dominate the knock out rounds. Well officiated, well played, it was typical of all games where one side managed the risk, then struck to finish the job of getting three points.
Italy v New Zealand was a surprise to anybody who expected the Italians to roll in and outclass the start up Kiwis. But if you'd been following things closer you wouldn't have been at all been shocked to see Italy struggle to make any kind of impact on a supposedly weaker side. From the opening goal by Shane Smetz , Italy were forced to fight back from a goal down. the fact they never did manage to score a goal in open play makes the penalty all the more galling. Vincenzo Iquinta acted like he was some kind of super hero football God right after the pen went in. His exuberance and confidence would be less annoying if it had been matched by some real attacking prowess by his team mates following the pen. As it is, they just fell asleep again expecting New Zealand to just let them in. No such luck. In fact if it weren't for the pen , it's absolutely certain that Italy would have lost 1-0. They never once seemed close to scoring a single goal. On top of that , even without Gatuso playing, the diving kicking and dirty tricks continued till the final whistle. If Italy think they can win a world cup like this they will have a massive shock in store should they get out of group stage and face any of the teams that came here to play football. I don't rate them to go far or make much of a mark. New Zealand on the other hand , on the back of this performance be able to hold head high however far they go. While I can't for certain say Guatemalan ref Carlos Batres was incompetent or biased, he seemed to only see Kiwi faults handing out three yellow cards . The penalty awarded to Italy smacked of massive inconsistency or an over zealous application of the rules. Shirt tugging is illegal yes, there was obvious shirt tugging, was it a penalty? No way. Free kick , yellow card, but never a penalty. In matches before and after this one, shirts were pulled all over the place but not a word was said about it. I doubt he'll get another match after this. As shifty as this referee might have seemed the next guy made him look like a wise man.
Brazil Ivory coast, the most anticipated fixture of the day was incredible in it's array of stars and spectacular styles of play we would could hope to see, even Didier Drogba was going to play. How good was this going to be? Well we didn't have long to wait for the idealism to slip into crass opportunism. Lucio and Drogba competed with each other for best dive without once being booked while a player who had a very real cramp was booked for time wasting. While the final result of 3-1 wasn't far from the truth, it was a skewed result.. that 2nd Brazilian goal was a double hand ball that the ref clearly saw. This however didn't stop him from asking "did you handle the ball?" No Guv I swear" was the answer. And Frenchman Stephane Lannoy believed him , goal stood. I'd like to tell you about some of the spectacular parts of the 2nd half , but I prefer to go on about how Kader Keita intentionally went out of his way to get KAKA sent off. Not only did KAKA never touch him, he grabbed at his face and fell rolling on the ground like he was hit by a sniper bullet. This bit of theatrics would be pretty funny if he hadn't convinced the ref. Added to the soft yellow from before and KAKA was sent off while Keita looked smug and satisfied with himself. I hope and suspect that the officials will review the tape and slap a multiple game ban on this idiot and lift the KAKA red card. It's unfair to deny a player, as good and as unfairly targeted, the privilege of playing in the remainder of Brazil's matches. Between the double hand ball and the KAKA sending off, the ref covered himself in the kind of attention that gets you officiating at the Arctic circle.
Speaking of French people... The fun continued today at France base camp. Patrice Evra had words with fitness director Robert Duverne. the frustrated director un happy with the French Captain's attitude left South Africa and the players left the training ground. They did however take time sign autographs and board the coach back to the hotel. In a further bizarre twist, Raymond Domenech, under siege manager, was given a statement to read to the press. Bottom line , the players want Anelaka to come back and seem to be in all but complete control of their cell block. Now I know all over Ireland people are laughing, crying, and lighting candles in church thanking God for the apparent poetic justice. I don't deny you the mirth , but do remember that they may have beaten you fairly and still have had the meltdown. There is a crisis in French football that will take longer to heal than just naming a new gaffer. The only silver lining here is that they make the palaver going on in the England camp seem tame by comparison. If you're wondering, they have to play the next match, question is who will be in charge. Will like a few years ago, when Becks managed the side against Argentina unofficially, the French players make their own decisions and humiliate Domenech further by producing a spectacular win. Or will the stubborn Frenchman make things worse by not stepping aside.
Meanwhile back at the England camp they had a team clearing of the air. In an interview dripping with irony, John Terry couldn't see where the problem was. I invite you to shout the answer at your screens , but don't forget to mention John Terry himself. Such a figure of trust, no one feels safe leaving their pet goldfish with him lest he try to sleep with it. Capello to his credit seems to be retreating into a shell of non answers and shoulder shrugs. I have come to the conclusion that it takes a an almighty huge talent to be England manager. It's possible that like the Dalai Lhama, there is only ever one person alive at any given time who is the chosen one for this job from hell. Problem is that the FA haven't the connections or the bottle to find this person and hire him. We've tried English managers , foreign managers and now very likely yet another unofficial player manager. I doubt that I will see in my lifetime a winning English side until this mess is sorted out once and for all.
On the lighter side of things, we heard a one of the stranger moments on telly. After 10 days reporting some mostly dull and sometimes shockingly bad matches , the BBC commentary duo working the Brazil Ivory coast match snapped. They descended into school boy antics ,calling each other Muppet and Scrooge respectively. It's been hard on everybody, you'd go barmy too if you had to stay interested in every last minute of this tournament. Moving along to more pleasant duties, I know a great number of you may be wondering who the actress in the Sky broadband advert is who says "perverse" so deliciously. You'll be happy to know she is Ivica Slavikova , former Miss Slovakia 2005. What you do with that in google is none of my business, but you won't be disappointed.
Three more matches tomorrow and most likely three totally unexpected results. I wont even pretend to guess how any of these will turn out.