Saturday, 19 June 2010

Sick as a parrot

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. It's amazing how a group of blokes kicking a ball around a pitch can totally ruin your day. I am so gutted by this morning's non-performance that I can barely string a coherent thought together.

We went for a bike ride around the Wakatipu Basin later. The sky was blue, the sun was shining and the scenery was stunning. But I still felt sick to my stomach. I'm not sure I would go so far as to boo the boys, but certain of them were definitely lacking in sparkle. Here's looking at you Wayne!

Now we 'just' have to win our next match and hope the USA don't win theirs. It's still all on. I'm not sure my nerves are up to it.

Friday, 18 June 2010

World Cup Match-ups

Well, the first round of group games is over and we’re into round two. England play Algeria tomorrow morning (NZ time), so I thought I better post this now just in case I’m slumped in the corner with depression tomorrow. I don’t expect to be – but you never can tell with England, or France, or Spain…

I don’t know what the French press are saying about their draw with Uruguay and their loss to Mexico, or what flack Spain are copping for their loss to Switzerland, but I know that certain sections of the British press have slated England for not beating USA. I find this a little odd because USA are a very good and competent side with some solid defence and inspirational moves up front; they didn’t get to 14th in the FIFA World Cup rankings by fluke (we are 8th incidentally).

This is the beauty of football, or one of them anyway. It is not by nature a highly scoring game, especially when the teams are evenly matched and they have a strong defence that the attackers struggle to penetrate. A single goal may be lucky (USA) or well-worked (Chile) or both (New Zealand) but it can dramatically change the outcome. I’ve heard a lot of grumbling (mainly from fans of rugby, basketball and ice-hockey) that the games have been boring because there are few goals. 

Clearly these people don’t understand subtlety or tactics (they probably hate test cricket too) or they would be able to appreciate that the Côte d’Ivoire vs. Portugal was a classic World Cup game of flare and dogged determination. There were two different styles of football of show: Portugal demonstrated flowing passes, silky skills and great team play; the Côte d’Ivoire fielded a side of big strong athletes with excellent individual prowess but not such superior solidarity. It was 0-0.

Another exciting aspect of this sport is that the ‘best’ team doesn’t always win. Portugal are ranked third in the Fifa World Cup rankings; Côte d’Ivoire are ranked 27th. The big thrill over here is New Zealand (78th) snatching a draw with Slovakia (34th). So far, the biggest difference in rankings has been Brazil (first) against Korea DPR (105th), and the lesser fancied side still managed to score a goal in the 2-1 game. You don’t often get that in other sports. We call it giant-killing and it makes every football competition electrifying. Anything can happen.

Let’s just hope that tomorrow the ‘best’ team – England (8th) – really does come out on top.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Shout it from the rooftops!

Until last week, I didn’t know the name of that extremely annoying horn. You know the one at this year’s World Cup. People blast its monotonous note (the term ‘musical instrument’ is somewhat far-fetched) at rugby matches over here. I assumed it was for folk who hadn’t the wit or the intelligence to think up a chant or remember words. You know, like those mind-numbingly banal ‘thunder-sticks’ that are also all the rage in this country.

Apparently they are called vuvuzelas. And outside South Africa (and tedious provincial rugby matches in New Zealand) they are extremely unpopular. There is a website you can visit and vote as to whether you want to see them banned or not. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they are ruining my enjoyment of the World Cup (Ronaldo is doing that) and it is up to South Africa to have them if they choose (indeed, there is even an argument that the vuvuzela is a symbol of racial and financial unification), but they certainly are excruciatingly loud and mind-numbingly unoriginal.

The BBC is considering filtering out the noise – if they could do this and keep the rest of the crowd noise – the singing; the chanting; the oohs and ahs; the cheers and groans – plus the commentator, then it would be worth it. You can just mute your TV, but then you won’t hear the commentators quips and questions – my favourite so far: “Will this be France’s chance to score? No.” So, I guess I’ll just have to suffer through it. The only game so far where I could actually hear the crowd singing through the wet blanket of whining was England v USA – funny that.

The vuvuzela cacophony sounds like a swarm of irritated (and irritating) mosquitoes – how could that possibly be desirable? I hate high-pitched noises (whistles; squeaky shoes on indoor courts; smoke alarms; children…) so these things give me a headache and set my teeth on edge. I am not alone. 83,951 people had voted to ban them on the previously-mentioned website at last look. Apparently this is ‘cultural snobbery’ and ‘patronising’. Fair enough; when in Rome and all that. Mexico gave us the wave (which, incidnetally, many organisations tried to ban); South Africa the vuvuzela. My, how we’ve suffered. It’s in Brazil in 2014 – we should have drums and sambas; that will be something to be celebrated.

Speaking of something to be celebrated – New Zealand gained their first point ever at the World Cup last night. It came in the 93rd minute, but it was the first decent cross they put in all game – congratulations Shane Smeltz. Never mind the fact that no one had previously heard of the under-19 and under-21 Danish goal-scorer; he is now a national hero. And rightly so. His precision header and Smeltz’s flash of inspiration elevated the lacklustre match into a public celebration of the beautiful game. And yes, my Arsenal-supporting-but-otherwise-likeable friend, you’re right; it does look magnificent, no matter how you look at it!

Naturally the media are jumping for joy despite normally ignoring the one true sport in favour of that ridiculous variety of hand-oval. The Guardian has a pretty fair report of the match. Okay, so they may be a little unfair in describing it as ‘asbestos-clad’, but they can’t take that point away from New Zealand. They deserve to party long and hard – after they’ve concentrated in the rest of their campaign, of course. (One thing I would say; not only is your team's nickname not particularly approariate in South Africa - think about it - but you should stop waving those white flags. There's no point admitting you've surrended before you've even started!)
I must admit, I wasn’t expecting the NZ goal – nothing in the previous 92 minutes had led me to suspect that they even knew where the net was, but I was very happy to be proved wrong. I will be even happier if I am proved even wronger and they manage to take points from either Paraguay (unlikely) or Italy (practically impossible). If they get through the group stage I stand to win the grand total of $45. If you’re out with me that weekend, I’ll buy you a pint.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Early highs and lows

You couldn't bet on Stevie G to win the golden boot - or you know that I would have done. His goal was wonderful! The less said about the USA equalizer, the better. Actually, I will say that the more I see it; the worse it looks. And it doesn't look too pretty in lego either - although at least this version has the added merit of being amusing.