Upstart Takes on the World (Cup): Day 12

22 June 2010

Written by: Evan Harding

Some of us know all about encounters where only one party leaves satisfied. The apologies – ‘that usually never happens’ – and eventually the continual listening to ‘It Must Have Been Love’ by Roxette… You know the kind.

Last night was kind of like that, only this time it was the not-so-pretty ones feeling a bit disappointed. North Korea, Switzerland and finally Honduras all ended their matches without scoring, and if you can’t score, you don’t win.

On a night for the attractive teams, Spain was expected to pump seven goals past on overmatched Honduras in a fit of Piqué following their shock loss in the opening match. They could have done just that had it not been for the wastefulness of strike duo Fernando Torres and David Villa. It’s perhaps a little harsh to criticise Villa, who scored twice including a wonder-goal and another deflected effort from range. But he still missed a penalty and blew another chance for his hat-trick, spurned opportunities that won’t be so easily dismissed against tougher opposition. Torres still looks underdone in his return from injury, which will be worrying for La Roja who looked much more dangerous with two up front. Could another Fernando, Athletic Bilbao’s Llorente, be in the air that night to make Spain’s stars shine bright?  That night of course being next Friday, Saturday morning 4:30am for us, for a match which should be the aesthete’s delight against Chile.

Speaking of Chile, they too struggled at times against Switzerland, but were aided by yet another scandalous red card; Switzerland’s Valon Behrami on the receiving end of an Oscar-winning performance from the apparently brutally-elbowed Arturo Vidal. Erdem Koc wrote about the soft red cards handed out so far and the impact they can have upon the game and this was laid bare by the eventual margin when Mark González headed La Roja (er… the other one) to victory against the ten men of Switzerland, who had set a World Cup record for going nine hours and 18 minutes without conceding a goal.

But of all the teams that could have put seven past their opponents it was Portugal who actually delivered with a scintillating second-half burst. It was at once both thrilling and unbearable to watch, the pure quality of the Portuguese contrasting with the demoralised Koreans, who you now have to hope can get something out of their final match with Côte d’Ivoire or meet the same fate as Hans Blix. The 7-0 rout was also good news for Australia, who can now only claim the second-greatest humiliation in this World Cup.

MUST-SEE: Arturo Vidal’s play-acting to get his Swiss opponent sent off last night isn’t the first time a Chilean has embellished injury in order to gain an advantage for his time. But Vidal’s effort still pales in comparison to the Roberto Rojas scandal that got Chile excluded from two World Cups. Here is the controversial incident from 1989 at the Maracana.

EYEBROW-RAISER: Nigeria’s Sani Kaita has reportedly been receiving death threats after his red card in the defeat to Greece. Here is how their press officer dismissed them:

‘In our language we say “kill you”, you know, means we are not happy with you. There are a lot of people who understand that are from Nigeria here. “I will kill you” means I am not happy with you. So, if a German hears “I will kill you”, it means you are dying next week! So please, we really need to clear this matter. Thank you.’

What a relief.

REASON TO CHEER ON KOREA REPUBLIC: South Korea appears to be Asia’s best chance to crash the European and South American love-in known as the knockout stages. There’s a lot to be admired about Park Ji-sung as well, who many said was a token signing for Manchester United and despite never really being first-choice has always delivered. He has scored for the Koreans at three World Cups now, the first Asian to do so. Then there’s Lee Dong-gook, the subject of one of my favourite blog comments, ‘he was so bad he only just makes it into [Middlesbrough’s] top ten strikers of all time.’

REASON TO CHEER AGAINST KOREA REPUBLIC: A loss tonight will almost certainly send Nigeria to the second round, which is still crashing the aforementioned love-in. South Korea have already had their success with their incredible run in 2002. And, well, don’t you just get the feeling that perhaps this sunken ship was in fact their own doing – a brilliant scheme aimed at cutting off aid to the North with the eventual aim being to resume the Korean War and crush their starving and weakened population in one fell swoop, finally able to claim sovereignty over the peninsula? What’s that, you don’t? OK, me neither.

TONIGHT: Tonight we will discover the first four entries into the second round. In Group A, Uruguay and Mexico could draw, and both advance to the second round, but the Mexicans won’t play for the draw for fear of meeting (in all likelihood) Argentina. But if either team wins, it leaves a shambolic France (or, if they are enough of a rabble to lose 4-0, South Africa) with the chance to pip the loser for second place. It would be almost a shame for Les Bleus to leave, such has been the entertainment they have provided in the past few days through in-fighting, mutinies, resignations and the like. But they really don’t deserve it, and don’t appear good enough, especially with some of their ‘imbecilic’ players threatening to boycott their final match. Not that the other result will let them in: Mexico 1-1 Uruguay, France 0-1 South Africa. Then it’s Group B, where Argentine coach Diego Maradona will rest many of his stars against Greece but not the electrifying Lionel Messi, who will captain the team. Greece will need to win to make the second round unless Nigeria can beat South Korea. Should Argentina win, the other match is likely to be a playoff for the Round of 16 berth. This group is still wide open and a late goal could decide it: Greece 0-2 Argentina, Nigeria 2-2 Korea Republic.

Evan Harding is co-producer of The Contenders Daily Bite, a daily World Cup short which can be seen on Tribal Football. A Master of Global Communication student at La Trobe University, he is an upstart editor armed with a month’s supply of coffee and a chance to still make back the money certain to be lost on an ill-conceived bet on France. Previous World Cup columns can be found here.