Daily Archives: June 24, 2010

Arrivederci Italia


For the first time since 1974, Italy has crashed out of the World Cup in the group stage, losing a 3-2 decision to Slovakia today to finish bottom of Group F, a shocking fall for the defending champion Azzurri. Coach Marcello Lippi said his team “played with fear in their legs and their hearts” throughout their brief stay at the tournament, perhaps never more than today when, for long stretches, Slovakia bossed the game and created the bulk of the chances.

This might have been the most dramatic game at the World Cup so far, with the stakes so high for both teams and the goals coming thick and fast in the final 10 minutes. But aging Italy, hampered by the loss of  goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and without Andrea Pirlo for the first two matches, never really woke up until then, and it cost them even worse than failing to beat New Zealand in their previous match. Slovakia’s players, notably the keeper, were guilty of some serious time wasting in the dying moments, with the match threatening to drag on longer than a certain Wimbledon epic, but they held on for a famous win.

As for the Kiwis, they pulled off another draw, their third in as many matches. For a team that was expected to be cannon fodder at this World Cup, New Zealand can hold their heads high, but they’re still packing their bags after a 0-0 snoozer against Paraguay, with the South Americans moving on.

The late games saw the Netherlands outclass Cameroon 2-1, the first time a Dutch team has won all three group stage matches at the World Cup (and extending an unbeaten streak that began with an undefeated qualifying campaign). Arjen Robben returned to the Dutch team after missing victories over Denmark and Japan. On the other side, Paul LeGuen resigned as coach of the Indomitable Lions after losing all three matches and could be heading Down Under for his next job.

Finally, Japan bent a pair of free kicks into the Danish net and, after conceding a second-half penalty, sealed it with a late third goal to earn a 3-1 win that dumped Denmark out. Even if their continent won’t be cheering for them, Japan are moving on, and doing so for the first time on foreign soil.

With all eyes focussed on South Africa, this seemed a good time for Chelsea to hand Nicolas Anelka a contract extension. Wonder whether there’s a behaviour clause? Does Stamford Bridge have a swear jar?

So, the Netherlands take on upstart Slovakia on Monday, with Paraguay taking on the Japanese on Tuesday, with just four places left in the round of 16.

Ian Harrison

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Party time in Port Elizabeth

Simon ‘The Happy Hoofer’ Hagens is in South Africa for two weeks of World Cup football and travel. In his second note from the road, Simon heads east to Port Elizabeth for England’s pivotal clash with Slovenia. Keep up with Simon’s gang on Twitter for plenty of fun photos.

Port Elizabeth stadium scene

Inside the stadium at Port Elizabeth

A long, beautiful drive out of Cape Town brought us as far as Knysna on the first night, where we stayed in the impressive Phantom Forest. Beautiful huts scattered throughout the trees were truly impressive… although better suited for young lovers than a squad of smelly football fans, as evidenced by the numerous soaking tubs, and absence of televisions. We took the opportunity to clean ourselves up, talk about (rather than watch) football, and tried keeping the monkeys away from our food with a slingshot. Still lost some jam.

By the time we got to Port Elizabeth, we were just one of a long stream of cars full of England fans descending on the city, which was just as prepared as Cape Town for the onslaught. A quick word about the exemplary organization of the event and the country as a whole. Having been to South Africa a number of times over the last three decades, I was curious to see how this would all come together. In a word, it’s amazing. Shuttle buses carry fans wherever they need to go, security is excellent, roads are smooth roads, the people are helpful, friendly and proud to show off their country. And in most places, a beer costs about $2.

Posing with police

The lads pose with the local constabulary

The lead-up to the game was a perfect mix of orderly and disorderly. Shortly after noon, the beach front was decorated in red and white, chants of “10 German Bombers” rang out time and time again, bars were being drunk dry. Hordes of people stumbled towards waiting buses and were shuttled to the stadium. England’s fans were outwardly optimistic, but their faces clearly showed worry lines. Unlike Friday in Cape Town, where Algerian fans mingled and joined the party, Slovenian fans were few.

As we bustled into the stadium and found our seats, it was red and white alone. The big show of support was clearly the inspiration this time and England came out strong, to the great approval of the crowd. The line-up (a topic of much drunken debate) was to the crowd’s liking. David James’ sure hands were a pleaser, and Jermain Defoe was roundly thought to be an addition that would add neccesary spark, a suspicion that was proved right. Some Tottenham pride showed through as Defoe’s goal generated a massive holler, the loudest I’ve heard, and an enormous sigh of relief. A few more goals would have been nice, but it was roundly considered well played, and well enjoyed. Lots of curiousity about the US game, and as news of the American goal trickled in at the end (thanks to a message from my wife, back in Canada), the importance of a second goal caused a few groans.

On the Road With England

Our correspondent meets a two-fisting Manc

At the final whistle, the fans tipped their pith-helmets to the riot police and headed to the pubs for a night of singing and watching Germany-Ghana. At the end of the night, many of these fans knew they would be heading to Bloemfontein to see England play Germany, a much anticipated match. Maybe not as easy as Ghana, but a welcome challenge. We’ll be holding our breath until then.

Some of my travelling party are off on safari while I visit family, with our next game back in Cape Town on June 29th. Friday’s matches will decide the competitors, but we’ll likely see Portugal vs. Spain. More then.

Simon Hagens

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Italy uncomfortable in Group F

Cameroon is the only team eliminated in Group E, with the Netherlands favoured to finish on top, while the defending champions have yet to punch their ticket out of Group F…

Group E:

Netherlands: 6 pts, +3GD, 3GS
Japan 3 pts, 0 GD, 1GS
Denmark 3 pts, -1 GD, 2 GS
Cameroon 0 pts, -2 GD, 1 GS

Cameroon is cooked, and the Netherlands will wrap up first place as long as they don’t lose to the Indomitable Lions. Japan need a win or a tie against the Danes to go through, but a Danish win would send them back to the land of the Rising Sun.

Prediction:

The Dutch get the result they need while getting some big names some rest, while the Danes get their Viking on and storm into the second round.

Group F:

Paraguay: 4 pts, +2 GD, 3 GS
Italy: 2 pts, 0 GD, 2 GS
New Zealand: 2 pts, 0 GD, 2 GS
Slovakia: 1 pt, -2 GD, 1 GS

Paraguay only need a draw against upstart New Zealand to ensure they advance, while the Kiwis must win to move on.

Italy need to win to guarantee a knockout berth, but a draw would see them through if New Zealand lose.

Slovakia need a win to have any hope, as well as a New Zealand win where the goals work out just right (Thanks for nothing, BBC). If both games finish as identical draws, Italy and New Zealand will be drawing lots. Who would have expected that?

Prediction:

Paraguay look strong enough to get the win over New Zealand, with Italy finding one goal is all it needs to send the Slovakians packing.

Ian Harrison

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