My 11 year old isn’t a huge football fan like certain other members of the family. After watching the England – USA game on Sunday (how about that Rob Green eh?! He’s from Norwich don’t you know, coughs... [Just quietly, Rob Green made more errors leading to goals in the Premier League last season than any other player (4) - Ed]) his comment was that it wasn’t a really exciting game, like the All Whites Bahrain one. And he’s right, it wasn’t.
But the Bahrain game is well and truly in the past now and the time has finally arrived for the All Whites to show their 2010 World Cup chops. The first chance comes on Tuesday night against World Cup newcomers, Slovakia. Like the All Whites, they’re not blessed with a stable full of stars but unlike the All Whites they’ve come through a highly competitive qualifying group including Poland and Slovenia, no mean feat at all. Their main playmaker is Marek Hamsik who’s fairly tasty, the Napoli midfielder will no doubt be high on the All Whites list of players to shut down. There’s also Manchester City’s 20 year old right wing wunderkind, Vladimir Weiss (who also happens to be the coach’s son), top scorer in qualifying Stanislav Sestak, and there are several other very decent players for us to worry about For example Premier League fans will probably recognise Liverpool defender Martin Skyrtel, he’s got a cherub’s face on a football hooligan’s body, can’t miss him. They have a FIFA ranking of 34, 44 places above New Zealand so while they may be our best chance, it’s a hell of an ask.
So, do the All Whites stand a chance in this game? Damn right they do, but it’s not a big chance. For them to win we’re really going to have to play out of our skins. Nelsen had better be fully recovered from the ear infection, Paston had better be on top of the superstitious Jabulani curse, Elliot needs a partner that can hold things up in the midfield or we’re going to be swamped, and we need to take at least one of the tiny amount of realistic chances that we’re going to get. I’m picking this is likely going to have to be Smeltz. The route 1 to Fallon or Killen is unlikely to trouble these guys so it’s going to have to be something special. But hey, let’s be optimistic, that’s what the group stages are for. I’m going all out on this one and saying NZ can get a draw, 1-1. What do you reckon?
It’s very rare for me to want the commentators at a sports event to actually talk more but at this World Cup I sure do. That's when the vuvuzelas actually drop a few db and the sound of a thousand ants all playing comb and paper in your head seems to fade for a blissful moment or two. For those who are unaware of the vuvuzela, I refer you Dr Johnson’s dictionary on the Twitter: Vuvuzela (n.) South African sporting HORN & not, I clarify from earlier Dictionaries, a cant Term for a Lady's MIMSY.
Every South African at every game seems to have been given one and they blow them all. the. time. It’s like being surrounded by those restless children at a one day cricket game who have nothing better to do than blow the free horn they were given at the gate, clap the clappy thing or play frisbee with the cardboard drinks tray.
Luckily, here in NZ we are getting the restrained official FIFA English-language commentary feed with a group of anonymous Englishmen with the same soft Yorkshire accent - no “colour-man”, no “sideline-eye” and no bunch of retired know-it-alls in a studio at half time. You can focus on the game.
And what about the football? I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen so far: one game a day plus all the highlights. When the forwards from all countries get some cow’s arse/banjo lessons things will certainly improve on the goal front, although this new Jabulani ball (provided by tournament sponsor Adidas and full of wondrous symbolism, although unpredictable in flight and bounce) might mean the fans behind the goal are in more danger than the goalkeepers themselves.
Two goalkeeping howlers so far have added some necessary goals to the usually cagey first round games. Both Green for England and Chaouchi for Algeria were beaten softly when they shouldn’t have been and aren’t making any excuses themselves but others who know the ball are suggesting that the way it spins off the ground is as devilish as they way it swerves through the air. By the way, anyone remember when Adidas tried making rugby balls and how long that experiment lasted?
Group A looks like becoming a Group of Death, not because the teams are particularly good but because they are now so evenly, averagely, matched. France and Mexico are well below their best and both under-powered upfront. The game between South Africa and Uruguay on Thursday morning is crucial. A win for either team puts enormous pressure on the big guys.
In Group C, England’s lack of fit defenders is really going to cause them problems. The ones that are left have no pace and, as we saw in the Australia-Germany game, without you’ll be shredded. Luckily, the group is a weak one. Algeria look like they were all styled by Jean-Paul Gaultier (those cute desert foxes on the shirts) but that won’t be enough to take them any further. USA look very well coached and Landon Donovan looks like a player who knows how to get the best out of this ball. The next games are Saturday morning NZ time.
And in Group E, well I’m not sure here. The Dutch just beat the Danes but the game itself is sitting on the MySky waiting for a free couple of hours. It looks like staying true to the form book and the battle will be between Denmark and Japan for the second qualifying place. The next Group E games are on Sunday morning, along with the woeful Australians in their last chance saloon game against Ghana.
As we saw in the Melbourne "friendly", the Aussies can turn very niggly when things don’t go their way so expect some fireworks as Ghana looked like a very good side against Serbia.
Dan (who can also be found at Funerals and Snakes)
But I say I'm Ghanaian and don't end up payin'
During the 2006 World Cup I was part of the Dropkicks podcast (you may remember it as the one that tried to get Russell drunk). During one of our recording/drinking sessions there was this (slightly scripted) back and forth:
Hadyn: [after a Ghanaian loss] oh, poor little Ghana.
Dom: There's nothing poor and little about Ghana ... except the country.
We laughed. Ghana, of course, actually made it through the group stage that year. The Black Stars showing off some the best parts of African Football. And they have again dispatching Serbia 1-0 yesterday.
Serbia now could really do with a perfect high scoring wins over Australia and even a respectable draw against Germany. Poor Australia look like they're gonna be the whipping boys of Group D. Which is good for us. Twitter was filled with folks gloating over the poor Aussies 4 point loss to Germany, forgetting that we have yet to play and aren't exactly the favourites.
We can happily gloat about Tim Cahill getting a red card. Something that his coach warned him not to do at the World Cup. And why were they wearing blue?
There is a movement building to ban the vuvuzela. While some claim it is to help South Africa with home field advantage, think of the poor folk who have to work at the venues. Science of Sport had this to say:
Studies have found that the noise levels from a vuvuzela exceed what are considered safe limits for employees. A Swiss-based company's testing showed that at its loudest, the sound registered 127 dB, compared to a chainsaw at 100 dB. In SA, a research study found that hearing was affected, and does not seem to return to normal for some time after being exposed to the sound. And that was just a few horns - the combined effects of perhaps 30,000 in a stadium are anyone's guess.
And then on a perhaps even more serious note, there are concerns over the spread of infection and illness as a result of 30,000 people blowing into the horn in an enclosed space. South Africa has one of the highest tuberculosis (TB) infection rates in the world, and it is spread through droplets, usually when coughing, spitting or sneezing. But what about blowing on a plastic horn? It's a real concern and is another reason why the safety has been questioned.
There is of course a cultural part to this as well. Would it be a South African World Cup without the incessant buzzing of plastic horns? Would we be up in arms if next year the world's press were bitching about the haka or cowbells? (note, that is almost certain to happen at some point).
I can't see the vuvus being dropped, so it might just be up to the sound technicians to make some changes to their mics.
Oh dear, Italy, which every man and his dog will tell you are "always slow starters", have drawn 1-1 with Paraguay. But this might be the first time it has effected New Zealand.
It would've been much better for us to have Italy win, or draw 0-0. If Pete's right and we draw 1-1 with Slovakia, it will be a victory (much like the Americans). But it won't be as good as it would've been if Italy had won. Instead we'll be even with the other teams with our best hope at a win behind us and two much better teams ahead.
A loss means at least one team is catching up to the rest. And it would've been nice if that team was Paraguay. Still in a World Cup with a win-draw ratio of 7:4 it's far more likely to be us.
Let's say Italy wins it's remaining group matches and that NZ is able to draw it's games. NZ comes away with 2 points, Italy has 7 and we don't make it through because the winner of Paraguay-Slovakia will go through, or if they draw, Paraguay goes through.
Let's say Italy win it's game against us and draws against Slovakia; and that NZ is able to draw it's games. NZ comes away with 2 points, Italy has 5 and we don't make it through because either Paraguay or Slovakia go through.
Pretty much every situation sees us coming home at the end of the group stage. Unless... We either draw all of our games or we win a game (or win all three I suppose, that could do it too).
Do we know any South African waitresses?
Finally, I know the Wellington City Council mean well, by providing a big screen at Queens Wharf so that football fans can gather and watch the games. But have they noticed the temperatures recently? And the feeds are the free-to-air matches screened by TVNZ, so expect to dress incredibly warm if you want to venture out at 2am to see us play Italy or Paraguay.
A nice gesture, but strictly for those without their own televisions or internet access.