Archives » World Cup

The World Turned Upside Down?

You may have noticed there’s a rather large and important football competition taking place at the moment. (A swift glance at TV schedules would be enough to tell you that.)

Four years ago I expressed my fear that a period of Germanic hegemony was upon us. Notwithstanding Portugal’s efforts at the last European Championships the young German side which triumphed at last year’s Confederations Cup boded well (or ill, according to view) for that prospect.

It seems that hegemony is not to be. In three performances of stunning inadequacy Germany have been so poor as to finish bottom of their group, only a moment of individual brilliance on the part of Toni Kroos yielding them a solitary win over Sweden.

It’s been a topsy-turvy sort of tournament what with England playing well (so far) and Argentina, like the Germans, struggling badly – but still managing to reach the second round.

I’ve not been overly impressed by anyone – though I thought Colombia looked good against Poland. But that may have been because the Poles were totally ineffective.

Brazil seem unbalanced to me; too much in thrall to their star player, Neymar, who doesn’t look fully fit. Belgium may be dark horses but haven’t played anybody of standing yet.

Judgement must be reserved till the knockout games. Too often before, a good showing in the group has unravelled at the next step.

But… Could this be Uruguay’s year again? They’re the only side yet to concede a goal.

(Cue a Portugal win on Saturday.)

‘Tis Fifty Years Since

If you peruse Radio 2’s schedule for today you will find an unusual item at 14.50.

World Cup ’66 Live.

(If you listen to Radio 2 you may also have heard the trailers for this being aired hourly since about the end of April – or does it just seem like that?)

Guys. I know it’s been fifty years and your only major trophy win is not likely to be repeated any time soon. But it’s not as if it hasn’t been mentioned at all in the interim.

Don’t you think it’s maybe time you got over it?

After today might we possibly have a moratorium on the whole business? Please?

What?

Thought not.

Summer Football

Way back in the dim mists of time the world was a simpler place and football did not dominate the calendar. World Cup finals were 16 teams large and the European Championship only had four qualifiers until it expanded to eight teams in 1980.

In Scotland the football season started on the second Saturday in August and finished on the last Saturday in April.

I thought it was pushing it when the season began edging into July to accommodate the Challenge Cup and altered League Cup format.

Today though is the 16th of July. The schools have barely broken up for the summer. Yet the Sons have a first game of the official season at Station Park, Forfar, in yet another alteration to the League Cup. It barely seemed the old season had ended when pre-season games began.

The squad manager Stevie Aitken has collected seems a little thin. The League Cup looks on paper to be not too daunting but I have no idea how we will fare against the three lower division sides in our group. (I expect to be beaten by Dundee.)

The league is a different matter. Already it looks tough. We’ll be relying on another full-time side to be rubbish (as Livingston were last season) to avoid the relegation play-offs and even then we’d have to finish above Ayr United, by no means a given.

How long we can continue to defy gravity I don’t know. This may be the season we don’t.

Jimmy Hill

I was sorry to hear today of the death of Jimmy Hill and especially that he had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

As a player he was relatively undistingusihed (or is that perception of mine just because he played before football became plastered all over the TV?) but as chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association he was instrumental in having the cap on footballers’ wages removed in 1961, leading to today’s high salaries in the upper echelons. As a manager he brought Coventry City up two divisions before leaving for a career in TV.

As a pundit he was always worth listening to but famously annoyed Scottish football fans by describing David Narey’s goal against Brazil at the 1982 Word Cup as a “toe-poke.” Both sides played up to the supposed antipathy his remark engendered but in reality he got on very well with any Scottish fans he encountered.

James William Thomas “Jimmy” Hill: 22/7/1928 – 19/12/2015. So it goes.

Sepp Blatter

I still don’t quite know what to make of Sepp Blatter’s resignation.

It was only a few days after he’d secured his presidency for another term. Maybe there’s a lot to come out about his dealings behind the scenes. It would seem so.

But…. A thought occurred to me.

Is it a bit like John Major’s resignation? He resigned (as head of the Tory Party) but still managed to stay on if you recall.

And Blatter’s given himself about six months still in charge while the process of electing a successor takes place. I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if he tried to stand again.

Whatever, I doubt that the next World Cup will be removed from Russia. There were good reasons why it should go there. (It was Europe’s turn and Russia hadn’t had it yet, among others.)

Qatar in 2022 is another matter. (But 2022 is Asia’s turn.)

In another point; to make things absolutely clear, if there is a rerun of the voting for 2018 or 2022, to avoid accusations of sour grapes, England ought not to bid and perhaps neither ought the US given it was that country’s initiative that has resulted in the arrest of FIFA’s executives.

MH 17 and Russia 2018

The shooting down of airliner MH17 over Ukrainian airspace was a tragedy – but more likely arising from the cock-up rather than the conspiracy wing of history. Surely no-one seriously thinks that the powers behind either side in the Ukraine fighting intended their minions to shoot down a passenger aircraft? It was clearly done by a trigger-happy clown not subject to much in the way of discipline or command and control as in a regular army. Unfortunately this sort of thing happens in civil conflicts.

The consensus that it was “Russian” rebels who did it is probably correct. That they ought not to have had the weapons to allow them to do it is also a given. But I suspect that Vladimir Putin is raging that it has put him – as the overwhelmingly likely ultimate source of the arms involved – in the wrong. One more reason for the US and EU to portray him as a villain and to increase sanctions.

Yet, unless it blows up into something bigger – in the hundredth anniversary year of the devastating fall-out of an assassination in the Balkans that prospect cannot be overlooked – in four year’s time will most people, apart from the families of the deceased for whom it will linger forever, remember it? Very few gave a toss about the contretemps Russia had had with Georgia in 2008 during the Sochi Winter Olympics earlier this year.

Yet we have our Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, calling for the World Cup due to be hosted by Russia in 2018 to be stripped from that country. I wish him luck with that. The site of World Cups is in the purview of FIFA and that organisation doesn’t take kindly to outside interference.

What makes his remarks even more counter-productive in terms of his stated objective is that Clegg has said that England might host the tournament instead. Anyone who had any knowledge of FIFA at all would know that is a non-starter.

Twonk.

di Stéfano

The football legend who has died today had a name that needed no further explanation. He was part of that legendary Real Madrid side that captivated the football followers of Glasgow and Scotland at the European Cup Final of 1960 – played at Hampden Park. di Stéfano scored a hat-trick.

I was too young to be aware of it at the time but the folk memory was promulgated and persists. Such was the effect of that display of what football could be that the names of the forward line still trip off the tongue with no need for googling. Canario, Del Sol, di Stéfano, Puskas and Gento. Mind you, I see film of that game now and think, “Where was the marking?”

One curiosity is that I believe the Eintracht Frankfurt team that formed the opposition that day were all amateurs – as was German football as a whole.

di Stéfano may be unique in having played international football for three different countries, his native Argentina, Colombia, where he played league football for a while, and Spain for whom he was naturalised in 1956. That was the type of scenario that I thought had been resolved by FIFA with its rules on eligibility but in the recent World Cup one of the commentators remarked that Kevin-Prince Boateng who played for Ghana in the tournament had previously played for Germany (but not, it seems, for the senior side.)

The World Cup was one stage that di Stéfano did not grace, for various reasons, but his thirteen national titles (two in Argentina, three in Colombia and no less than eight in Spain) and five European Cups – not to mention his scoring record – speak for themselves.

Alfredo Stéfano di Stéfano Laulhé: 4/7/1926 – 7/7/2014. So it goes.

Cultural Blinkers

I was watching the Argentina – Iran game today (strangely compelling for a 1-0) and was amused to hear the commentator Clive Tyldesley say that most of Iran’s squad had their Christian names on their shirts.

Christian names? For Iranians?

I see from this that it wasn’t just me who noticed…

Serial Delusion South of the Border

In Thursday’s Guardian, Owen Gibson (in an article titled “Dyke sees remedy for Hodgson’s headaches” on page 42 of the print edition) said, “With the odd exception (1990, 1996, 2004) the [England] national side has consistently underperformed since 1966.”

Oh dear. Not again.

Would a more realistic way to look at this statistic not be to suggest that actually in those four years cited (out of a total of 24 opportunities) that the England team actually surpassed itself and otherwise played for the most part as might be expected?

It would only be on those occasions that England failed to qualify for a major championship finals that the team could be said to have “underperformed.”

(On this note it can now be seen that Scotland consistently overperformed on all those occasions between 1970 and 1998 when reaching the finals competition was achieved.)

Scotland 0-2 Belgium

FIFA World Cup Qualifier: Europe, Group A, Hampden Park, 6/9/13.

Nobody really expected Scotland to get a result out of this and so it transpired.

I only saw the highlights and it looked as if Belgium did not have to reach top gear. Even so, Scotland did well to restrict them to as few attempts on goal as they got.

Belgium are an impressive side. Whether they are impressive enough to go all the way in Brazil next year is another matter.

Bottom of the group again. With only two games left we really need a win on Tuesday in Macedonia to have any hope of avoiding that spot at the end of the qualifiers.

free hit counter script