Saturday, June 26, 2010

On the road


On the road today to Rustenburg for US v Ghana, second round knockout. A thick blanket of smoke followed us all the way from Joburg (three hours). Rustenburg has the World  Cup coming to town, with the richest nation in tow,  so they react by burning off acres of grass beside the road and turning the sky a feral gray which stinks of burnt toast and stinkng . No idea how players run around in altitude and abrasive smoke. It comes as no shock that the pampered Euro players want out of this place as soon as possible.

Friday, June 25, 2010

So it isn't the end


The show goes on without timmy and h. In pretoria before chile v spain and watching brazil and portugal on big screen. Just spotted a big tub full of live oysters. Way to a mans heart and all that.'
While Australia's Italian fans moaned about being misunderstood, there were many Australian fans having the time of their lives. As the temperature dipped the locals burned much wood and many snags. The Chile fans invaded the stage and the Spanish boys were content with    writng the number 10 oon its of paper and flashing them any pretty girl walking by.
Looking forward to an epic match Spain v Chile.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The End


Sitting on a bus to Ellis Park for Italy v Slovakia after four hour drive from Nelspruit. The sign on the way out of town, sums it  up.  Have now finished working for The Associated Press and get to kick back and watch some games for fun. Was hoping to avoid thinking about last night but the bus is playing Crocodile Dundee on the TV. Paul Hogan: Another battling Aussie who never really took the next step up on the world stage. Great game against Serbia. Saw a bit later on replay but TV didn't do justice to the noise level and the tension. Well done our fans for drowning out the vuvu for a few minutes at least.
 Brett Holman: bloody hell, from donkey to cult hero in two weeks. Spoke to him for a while afterwards and a very nice, humble Aussie bloke he is too, especially compared to some on the team. Bit like the Socceroos own Mick Dundee. A classic moment as he struck that long range shot past the keepper and ran with arms outstretched to the same corner Tim had gone to four minutes earlier, as if to say: That's not a goal... THIS is a goal..."

Cops stunned by Socceroos shockers



What you doing trying to come in like that, fool! After much negotiation these Aussie fans were allowed in tonight  without their shirts but unlikely to win any awards for sartorial elegance.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

On the street where we live, Nelspruit



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This does not appear to be a joke. It's  a nice upper middle class street with big family homes behind spiked fences and razor wire. Other signs, for security firms, warn of "armed response". This one is refreshingly to the point.
After we stopped to take photos a lady driving a kick ass ute pulled up alongside us. "Are you tourists?"she asked. After some friendly banter about tonight's game she drove off the warning: "Keep your  mobiles and your keys in your pockets around here, ya?"
Justified or not, it can't be pleasant living in a permanent state of paranoia.

Whingeing in Nelspruit

Arrived in Nelspruit today after a 4 hour road trip. Desolate country side, except for a brief dramatic rocky landscape 50km out, a bit like the gorge on the way to the Central Coast. Much is new -  TomTom got us lost because the road was seemingly built since I downloaded the map two weeks ago.

There's been a bit said about Australia's whingeing following the Harry send off against Ghana. The Herald has carved the players up as whingers and quoted Tim Cahill as saying we Aussies never get a fair go.
I asked Pim about it at the media conference just now, but Captain Lucas just dived in. "You mind if I answer that?" And he did, with a little whinge along the way.

The story is here

Big game tomorrow (and we don't mean lions and elephants). The stadium is dressed for the occasion with towers the (almost) shape of giraffe and a cool zebra print on the empty seats - rather wasted on game day.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

So good they left out cesc

-- Spain at Ellis Park - I'll never forget this. The blur of the passing, the wonderful David Villa goal, falling over after a weaving run, he belts it into the corner. They should have scored six at least. Torres looks like a player who has been out for a while,which he is. If he can get his edge back by the finish and Villa can keep up his form, they will  go close to winning it.The noise was insane, the attack relentless. The fans were using the vuvuzelas in sync, great blasts of volume, the whole ground buzzing. And Spain were out of this world.One Xabi Alonso pass over 50 metres made me gasp. Beautiful game, beautiful team. Cesc came on after an hour - this is probably his fate for the next two seasons at Barca until he takes over a starting role.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Karma time

Brazil v Ivory Coast, much that is good about the sport and all that is bad. Some of the Brazilian buildup play was a delicious whir. Robinho set the tone as early as the 45th second, charging down the centre and lasing a ball just over the bar. Elano's sweet goal was the beautiful game at a zenith.
Brazil have steel too. Their defenders kept Drogba to 17 touches, which, reports a stats company, is the fewest by any player to play 90 minutes of a game at this World  Cup.
But this game won't be remembered for the four goals. It will all be outrage over Keita's disgraceful play acting to get Kaka sent off. But remember this: Luis Fabiano earlier handled twice in the lead up to his goal and celebrated with a laughing referee.
And this was not the worst example of simulation at a World Cup finals. That dishonour belongs to  Rivaldo in 2002.  I've included the video below.
  
 


Kiwi, Kiwi, Kiwi, Oi Oi Oi

Fantastic spectacle between New Zealand and Italy tonight. Offside goal to NZ, a dodgy penalty to Italy (where have we heard that before) and a pen not given to the All Whites when it should have been.
The tournament has been criticised for dull games but it has taken off now. The Australia game was a thriller. Harry is luckless. First game since April, should have had a penalty and then concedes one. He didn't break down in tears like Timmy, but then they're just different characters. Felt like we should have stolen a win. Luke Wilkshire was pissed off at himself for missing with the keeper to beat. He had time to chip it but hit low. Messi would have scored, but how many Messi's are there?
Chipperfield came close.I spoke to him afterwards about it. One of those where he'll be thinking about his header for the rest of his life (assuming it's the difference between going out and staying in). You just know he'll be 80 and the internal dialogue will still be there: "It was there hanging in the air, I got up well, good header, just got it slightly wrong, should have scored."
Chippers was downcast. He said "90 percent of Australia thinks I should retire. I don't see the point of going on."
We could have won but we didn't. Now what we need is not quite a miracle, but it's in the ball park.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Two handballs, but only one man misses Australia v Serbia

Two handballs, two penalties but only one sending off has left Australia's players seeing red and claiming injustice at the World Cup.

 The Socceroos face Serbia in a decisive Group D match at Nelspruit on Wednesday without star striker Harry Kewell. He would have expected to line up directly against Manchester United center back Nemanja Vidic, but received a one-game ban by FIFA after a red card in the 1-1 draw with Ghana on Saturday.
What has incensed the Australians is the presence of Vidic in the game. A day earlier he conceded a penalty for a handball against Germany, when his arm was raised high in the box and a cross struck him on the hand. He received a yellow card, likely because there were no German forwards lurking behind him and he was not deemed to have prevented a clear goal scoring opportunity.
 Kewell was struck on the arm by a fierce goal-bound shot but claimed he was trying to get out of the way. Australian forward Brett Holman said Kewell's intervention was an accident, while Vidic had put his hand up like a goalkeeper and stayed on the field.
" I haven't seen the Harry incident back on TV, only really quickly when it happened,"said Holman. "I was in the belief he kept his arm by his side, he didn't stick an arm out. It didn't look like he was being a goalie, like Vidic yesterday. He was going to grab it almost. I was definitely surprised by the call."
 Craig Moore also made mention of Vidic's handball after claiming the Kewell incident was neither a penalty nor a red card.
 "I'm not one for hard luck stories but we haven't had the run of the green on the big calls," says Moore. "You like to think they even themselves out but they haven't at this point in time. I didn't think it was a red card."

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Hot chicks in Rustenburg

Three hours before the game in Rustenburg, view from the media carpark to the Royal Bafokeng Stadium, venue for Australia v Ghana. This  is in the middle of the middle of the middle of nowhere.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Ghana training 26 hours from ko

Have arrived in Rustenburg for the Ghana game. Interesting journey including a sign that reads:  "Hijack Zone next 4km." Others have hotlines in case you hit a croc. The area around the stadium is a red wasteland and there is one lane back to Joburg. The ground is small and intimate but surrounded by a running track. Shold make for a good atmosphere tomorrow night.
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Is he Aussie Ossie?

Met Tottenham and Argentina legend Ossie Ardiles last night. Had some interesting things to say about Australian football and the role of entertainment in the beautiful game. I don't normally ask for photos with people I interview, but thought it might drive a certain Coledale Spud to jealous rage.

The story is here


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Should Australia's media be cheerleaders for the team?

I went to South Africa v Uruguay last night after watching Harry's quite calm attack on Australia's reporters - well particularly one from the Herald. Harry obviously believes the Australian journalists should be an extension of the Fanatics or Green and Gold Army.
"You should all be supporting us, making us feel good," Harry said in the mixed zone at Australia's training ground. "You're all supposed to be on our team and it's a shame you're all having a go a us."
That's not really the Australian way. News is news and the reporters don't care if it's good or bad. Sure it's better writing about a winning team. It's certainly easier because the team opens up and players are happy to talk themselves up. After the Germany game, the Australian team went to ground. They have done one media session in three days and that one was used as a chance to attack the press. A classic tactic in shifting momentum.
Interesting too has been the reaction to Pim's selection. Players from Harry, Vinnie and Craig Moore have produced the same line "we are following orders." Kewell appeared to support Verbeek in his interview but his message is more subtle than that. I believe he is saying, no matter what happens here, success or dismal failure, it is all down to the coach.
I found the motivation for Ben Buckley's press conference difficult to understand. He stood up and responded to a rumour - that there was a rift between players and Verbeek - which appeared on a rumour segment of a Melbourne radio station. By glorifying the rumour with quotes Buckley turned the rift into an international story. From 3AW to Taiwan, Tehran and Timbuktu in a matter of hours.
So, the footnote. After Uruguay beat South Africa the Uruguay coach came into the interview room, to applause. The first question: "Maestro, congrtulations on your personal contribution to this momentus victory for our country..." That must have made Oscar Tabarez feel good. Harry would have liked that.

More real work

From Ninemsn, USA Today and others


Forlan stops the music, spurs on Uruguay
By Tony Harper

Suddenly, a World Cup venue fell silent. It took 17 matches, but Diego Forlan of Uruguay brought the incessant sound of the noisy vuvuzelas to a stop on Wednesday with two goals in a 3-0 rout of hosts South Africa at Loftus Versfeld stadium.

He started the scoring with a 25-metre drive which took a flick off defender Aaron Mokoena and dipped in under the crossbar. But the crushing moment, for home fans, came when he stepped up to bury a second-half penalty high into the net after goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune had been given a red card. As he moved to the sideline to be engulfed by jubilant squad members, there was almost no sound emanating from the stands.

"I am so happy," Forlan said.

"I hope this was the real Uruguay tonight."

Forlan made his World Cup finals debut in 2002 and scored one goal, against Senegal, as Uruguay failed to clear a difficult group. That was during a tough time in his career and the difference now could not be more marked.

Back then, Forlan was at Manchester United and more known for horrendous misses than his sharp shooting. He was nicknamed "Diego Forlorn" and became a figure of fun for United fans.

A lot has happened since he fell out with Alex Ferguson, famously ignoring the manager's advice on what studs to wear in a game against Chelsea, missing an easy shot from in front of goal and never playing for the team again.

Forlan was shipped out to Villareal but in 2007 moved to Atletico Madrid as replacement for Fernando Torres, and he's proven a worthy successor. Torres, the Liverpool striker, was misfiring as Spain crashed to defeat earlier on Wednesday, but Forlan was superb for Uruguay.

"He's the type of player who decides games and that's what he did tonight," South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira said.

"It is not only tonight but for five or six years. He has been the top scorer in Spain twice and if you don't watch him you are in trouble. He took a beautiful shot for the first goal tonight - he's a great player."

Forlan overshadowed South Africa's No.10 Steven Pienaar in a lopsided contest and his distribution was nearly flawless.

"We were clear what we had to do tonight," Forlan said.

"We were intense in defence and we stayed calm in the midfield. We have to keep going, however. We have achieved nothing yet."

Uruguay is a two-time winner of the World Cup but those achievements were in 1930 and twenty years later. More recently their World Cup story has been one of early exits or qualifying disasters.

For the past five years Forlan has been one of Europe's top strikers. Perhaps a Golden Shoe beckons if his goals can carry Uruguay deep into the tournament?

"I am not thinking about being the top scorer here. No," Forlan said on Wednesday.

"Goals are important for the team, not for me. If the goals come for the team, that is the main thing."

Harry hot

Harry just turned on the media at socceroos training. "You are all supposed to be here supporting us - making us feel good."


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Harry in the mixed zone on the mixed zone

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Germans are toying with us

If you can handle reliving the Germany game this is a pretty cool way to do it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

My view of holland v denmark

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  • Yes I got here. No, I was not in time and my ticket had been given away. Yes, that's the dunny.

And, in lighter news . . .

real work

From USA Today, SMH.com and others today

By Tony Harper, Associated Press Writer
DURBAN, South Africa — The first time Tim Cahill ran into Bastian Schweinsteiger he earned a red card. The second time he dissolved into tears.
Cahill, the hero of Australia's 2006 World Cup campaign, was sent off Sunday with a straight red card in the 56th minute for a late challenge on Schweinsteiger at Moses Mabhida Stadium. He now misses the must-win match against Ghana.
"It's one of the saddest moments in my football career to be in this position," Cahill said, just as Schweinsteiger approached him after the game.
"It was not a red card," Schweinsteiger told the Australian, who began to cry.
"That was nice of him," Cahill said. "Sometimes players can make a meal of things on the pitch and it's understandable because it gives them an advantage."
Cahill said the red card was "one of the lowest points of my career."
Cahill's challenge came from behind but his studs were on the turf, his leg was bent and he clipped Schweinsteiger with his knee first.
Even so, Marco Rodriguez of Mexico showed him the red card. Germany was already leading 2-0 and it powered away for a 4-0 victory.
"If you look at in on the TV you can see he comes in from behind trying to make a tackle and then pulls out," Australia captain Lucas Neill said.
Cahill, who plays as an attacking midfielder with Everton, had endured a frustrating night as Australia's usually conservative coach Pim Verbeek pulled a surprise and played Cahill as striker.
Although Verbeek has employed a 4-2-3-1 formation throughout qualifying and friendly matches, he left the squad's three strikers on the bench and played midfielders Richard Garcia and Cahill as two front men.
The move left Cahill, Australia's most influential player, isolated and wasted up front and he barely threatened. He appeared frustrated as the Germans took control but said he was happy to play anywhere on the field.
"It's just an honor to play for my country," Cahill said. "You see a lot of players wanting to start who aren't. I'd play left back it wouldn't bother me."
Australia must now beat Ghana, who earlier Sunday scored a 1-0 victory over Serbia, without Cahill, to have a chance of making the next stage.
Cahill became a national hero in 2006 when he scored twice in the final 10 minutes to lead the Socceroos to a come-from-behind 3-1 victory over Japan, the country's only victory in a match at a World Cup finals.
"I never doubt my own character I'm 100 percent committed to the cause," Cahill said. "I'll train my best to prove my worth for the last game."

Going dutch ... Maybe

Been a long couple of days. After the riot drama was in bed at three and then up at six for flight back to joburg. Having written an obligatory "why pim is a goose " story on plane i ignored matt halls advice and set off for the holland game at soccer city. Allowing three hours to go thirty k seemed fine but one missed shuttle later im in the worst traffic ever- outside of moore park of course. Hoping to see van persie play but half an hour to ko likely will just stay stuck behind the van in front. Memo to self: if you want to see lots of games stay home.

Men with guns are running at us

I got caught in a riot after tonight's match. Stewards, saying they were offered about $250 for 12 hours work at Durban Stadium, were paid less than $50. They refused to leaved the venue and were chanting and had surrounded a cop car as I came down from the press tribune. Soon after armed riot police came storming in, as I was interviewing a steward. "This is an international event. International! They are supposed to give us 1500 rand, that's what FIFA told us. They give us 190! We are working from 12 o├žlock until now (1am)."
At this moment, riot police moved in. The stewards began to run for the exits and I was caught up in a stampede, caught in the flow of bright ornage vested stewards going one way as riot police with guns charged at us. The cops threw down percussive grenades and two loud booms echoed through the concrete bowels of the stadium. Later, teargas was used to drive the stewards out of the precinct. Some said they faced walks home of up to three hours.

  

Wow

Huge cheers for our boys. Amazing noise stunning venue
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Great scoop by New York Post! (Read it carefully guys)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Game day

A rude awakening at 5am game day. A lone vuvuzela being mournfully blown by fan in the street below. Maybe an England fan? Steve Waugh got  here today. Tape recorder thrust under his steely eyes and asked if he had a message: "Robert Green, you've just dropped the World Cup". Maybe that was a dream.
Very hot today. I have three jumpers, thermal underwear, a massive jacket, big leather boots and no boardshorts. I have obviously not been paying attention. An English colleague just headed off to the beach leaving me here with my blog and air con. Here are a couple of photos from the window.
Plenty of Australians on the street and not many look confident. Rumours abound of team changes for tonight but that would  be a massive surprise from our conservative coach.
Where you guys watching it?


The final session

The Socceroos held their final pre match training run at Moses Mabidha Stadium in Durban. Pim and Lucas fronted the press but you feel they've done all their talking. They've spent two weeks talking up the Germany team and Lucas says tomorrow is "probably the toughest game in our short world cup history." Considering we'played Italy and Brazil in 2006 and both Germany teams in 1974, it was a big statement.
Spent the day working for AP. Weird being here as a worker and not a fan like four years ago. Less beer, and less watching football. Saw the Argentina win via replays as ws typing out a Craig Moore story at the time. Not making that mistake for england, so off we go.
  

Really?
No, just a test of the screens in Durban

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Made it

Durban. Nice looking place. Like the Gold Coast in the 1970s, although can't see many surfers. Could be sharks but likely it's just cold.
Saw France v Uruguay at a Joburg fan zone last night. Becuse it was the late game and followed a very loud Afro music gig I was the oldest bloke there. And the only one without a horn... Or a SA jersey. Reminded me of 2006 except bloody freezing. Had to jump up and down on the spot while watching, great clouds of mist coming off me.
Durban though is nice. Inside this media shuttle it says it's 30 degrees.
Now to brave the accreditation queue and a Pim verbeek press conference.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Socceroos Strange but true No. 2

Germany have taken five strikers to the World Cup but Australia is left with only three. There's Jesus Josh and Hobbling Harry as well as "Aussie" Nikita Rukavtytsya. Nik, who plies his trade on loan at Belgian club K.S.V. Roeselare came to Perth eight years ago as a 14 yearold from the Ukraine, unable to speak English.
His father Vadym was a professional Greco-Roman wrestler in their homeland.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Song for the Socceroos

I got the following email from a Socceroos diehard yesterday and it left me humming for hours and thinking for minutes.

Hey Tony
Seeing as though you’re a media identity – I have a song to be sung in the stands and at the bars
To the tune of Pet Shop boys ‘Go West’…and plays on what was sung in Germany where the crowd would sing ‘stand up for the socceroos’ and repeat that line over and over again and it went nowhere.
I was motivated by the Croatians fantastic singing in Stuttgart main square before the game – earlier that day – we had nothing to match them - except such great lines such as – ‘you’re shit, but your chicks are hot, repeat’ again with the go west melody

Anyway – here we go

STAND UP FOR THE SOCCEROOS
SING LOUD FOR THE SOCCEROOS
FEEL PROUD OF THE SOCCEROOS
IT’S THE TIME OF THE SOCCEROOS

Can you get it out there?
I tried in Stuttgart – wrote it out 25 times on a single A4 page – went to the Stuttgart train station photocopier – printed it off 30 times and then handed out all 700 of them to the Aussie crowd in the bars in the hrs leading up to that famous night. George Negus called me the ‘bearded bard’ at the time! And Tony Wheeler in his book referred to me in some way too

Anyway

Its in your hands now…

Martin

Four years ago I thought I might write a song too. I had heard that Mark Schwarzer's favourite artist was Jimmy Barnes, circa Working Class Man, so a I penned a tribute which begand "Let's all cheer that magic man, Schwarzer!" What followed was a long (and some said painful) celebration of the Australian number one, intricately woven around the lyrics of Khe Sahn, a great choice - or so I believed - because it was a backpacker in foreign pub staple and had been for years. I told a few friends and you know what? It never stuck. For a start it was four minutes long. Secondly, the stutterers I know had trouble with the line: "We're gunna drink in Kaiserslautern all night long".
Despite Martin's comment, I thought my song was bested by the "You're shit, but your chicks are hot" song, which was carried over into the Italy match, and certainly made more sense to me that day.
Other favourite chants along the 2006 way included "You only sing when you're whaling" (at the Japanese) and "One tonne Ronaldo" at the hefty Brazilian bloke.
What I found out with my overwrought Cold Chisel Schwarzer tribute, and Martin will probably learn, is that after several hours drinking in a town square songs need to consist of as few words as possible.
Let's keep track of the chants in SA, if you hear a good one, let us know.

Socceroos strange but true. No. 1

Brett Emerton, put up for sale by his EPL club Blackburn today, once knocked back an approach by Man United boss Sir Alex Ferguson. Fergie rang Brett's father Michael in 1999 and asked him to bring the boy over for a trial. Brett, whose favourite player was Ryan Giggs, decided against going because he wanted to give something back to Australian football after being school at the AIS. He had promised to stick around to play at the 2000 Olympics. Michael told Fergie to call back after the Olympics but he never did.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

How Australia plays - in a nutshell from Zonal Marking

 

Yes, we all have an opinion on the defensive set up favoured by the national coach, but for an excellent insight into our 4-2-3-1 style, complete with more illustrations like the one above, check out the analysis at the Zonal Marking website here

Monday, June 7, 2010

The world's most disgusting Fantasy League

Congratulations to Host Advertising agency for coming up with a World Cup fantasy game with a deliciously naughty twist. Instead of picking a team and having the players score you points with goals, assists and clean sheets, the  Fantasy Cheaters League rewards a different skill set altogether. Pick 11 players you expect to rack up disgusting fouls (5pts), blatant handballs (3 pts) and outrageous dives (5pts). The cheat of the match gains you 10 points. While most fantasy games have a limit of players from one country or team, a quick read of the rules suggests no such restrictions - so you could picking the entire Italian starting line up.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Why we love Scott Chipperfield (and hate Brazil) in Wollongong

We've been here before. Now has Pim got what it takes to lift this listless team?

In 2006, the Socceroos final warmup match was a similarly confused and erratic performance, a tight win over Liechtenstein characterised by sloppy passing, vague defending and a lack of cohesion. So, was the 3-1 loss to the United States last night - sharing all these characteristics and a few more besides - a good omen? Probably not.
Too much can be made of the powers of managers. But could anyone notice the tired face on bench bound Pim last night and not wish for a time when the Socceroos had someone capable of rousing them from their slumber, of bringing them to a psychological peak with a wave of that meaty arm?
It says it all that Pim's next venture will be taking over the youth set up in Morocco - a move that hardly screams ambition or tells of a man in wide demand as a motivator of men. It was also a weakness to feel forced into announcing his next destination before this job was completed.Can he take a team suffering fatigue and struggling to cope with the peculiarities of altitude and a trick ball and give them what Hiddink did four years ago?
According to Jason Culina last night, Verbeek has been hammering them in training. It was much the same four years ago when Hiddink slaughtered his players in the weeks before their first match against Japan and it helped them dig deep when they looked beaten. But how much of that success and subsequent group advancement was down to Hiddink's motivational powers, his gravitas?

Is there a Pim X Factor, as yet unseen, which will emerge when his team is a goal down with 10 minutes to play at World Cup? The senior players say they love him, but maybe that is because he doesn't rattle their cages as his predecessor did, famously leaving Cahill out of the starting lineup four years ago, or dropping Schwarzer for the third match. Tecnically, and tactically, the Socceroos are not going improve over the next week. Last night they ran into a better team, in a friendly it must be remembered, and faltered. So, what extra can Pim bring to the table, now that it matters.

What else did we learn?

If Vince Grella could kick the ball as well as he kicks his opponents he'd be a superstar.

The US are justifiably ranked higher than we are. Their speed carved Craig Moore to bits and but for an astonishing miss and a wrongly ruled out goal, this might have been a massacre.

Harry is a desperation play. If he can't be risked for 15 minutes in a friendly, what makes us think he can have any impact in the tournament? No matter what happens in the next eight days, he has played two minutes in a competitive match in 2010.

Tim Cahill will carry a heavy load. Hopefully his neck injury is just a slight strain.

We don't have a freekick option. Despite Tim Cahill's glorious freekick goals in a TV ad, we are bereft of someone who can take advantage of freekicks around the box. Luke Wilkshire, excellent at delivering from wide, had one tepid attempt. Bresciano, a player who has scored from set pieces in the past, wore the air of a defeated man when he walked up to crash his straight into the wall. His body language screams insecurity right now.

Schwarzer remains one of the world's great goalkeepers. Better than Almunia? Right up in the top few for mine. Two saves, one from Dempsey going across the goal into the bottom corner, and a swerving thunderbolt from Bradley, showed his class.

 In front of him, however, we have a whole lot of problems.

What did you learn last night?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Football's Coming, Gnome

Anyone else feel we are getting the rough end of the pineapple when it comes to creative ways to support our World Cup team this year? Sure,
we have a lairy playing strip made out of recycled plastic bottles, but so far I've seen nothing to compare with the English and US souvenirs pictured here. I think both do an excellent job of summing up their respective national characters. In fact, the England example (15 pounds) looks very much like Wayne Rooney in the new Nike ad, after it's all gone wrong. The American "Patriot Mask" ($US18.99), well they wouldn't make those anywhere else really would they? As editor of Football + mag I tried to redress this issue and had the Australian Makarapa commissioned from the biggest producer in Johannesburg. And yet, something is missing - it's just too ... classy.
Now maybe if they'd dressed it with the top of a pineapple...

So what Australian World Cup souvenir would you like to see?


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

From the Rose Bowl to Joburg: Here we go again

It's 16 years since I experienced my first visit to a World Cup, and it was nothing like I was expecting. Landing in Los Angeles, fresh from two years working as freelance on Fleet Street, was weird dislocation. In England, and on the subs bench at The Sun in particular, football, the games and all its baggage, was almost overwhelming. European nights at Highbury, World Cup warmups at Wembley, working in an office under a huge picture of Vinnie Jones with a fistful of Gazza's meat and two veg, was like oxygen to a young journo/ football fan. And then hot LA, an el cheapo motel downtown, no one with any clue as to why you were there. If you told them the football/ soccer World Cup you got a blank, distrusting look. It sounded too foreign.
Five weeks in a trailer in the Rose Bowl car park, with the odd epic game (Argentina 2 Romania 3, still the greatest football exhibition I've seen live) thrown in. Abiding memories of the mobile burrito van which kept me fed, filterless Camels I still regret, watching out the window as the LA cops brought in OJ, the sky full of TV choppers. And an earthquake. Well a tremor that seems scarier with each year. Seeing Al Gore and his entourage of secret service, wearing, and I'm not sure why I found this so funny at the time, large plastic accreditations declaring SECRET SERVICE.
Agence France Presse staff having a huge seafood feast and then dumping their prawn shells in the industrial bin next to our UPI trailer. Did they pay to have that bin left there for the next 10 days?
Rewriting American soccer copy into English to send to papers where they would doubtless write it back into American. And sitting next to a befuddled man from New York who couldn't understand why a defender was allowed to score a goal.
Soon to South Africa. What memories are still to come?