With the first four qualifiers for the next phase now confirmed, we may read the last rites for the vanquished. The most notable is of course the French farce, which ended with a colossal whimper, defeated by South Africa. Raymond Domenech, having briefly been gifted the moral high ground by his players’ training boycott, signed off with a final reminder that he is indeed un crétin putain. At the final whistle, Domenech refused to shake the hand of South Africa’s coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, reportedly because the Brazilian had said that France didn’t deserve to qualify. Their abject performance in qualifying, the disingenuous way they finally did make it through and the string of poor performances before and since would indicate that Parreira had a point, but even if untrue it’s hardly the sort of comment to deserve such arrogance from Domenech. Of course, this is arrogance followers are used to seeing from a man who is absurdly France’s longest-serving coach. As for the rest of the team, enough virtual inches have already been spent dissecting their pathetic effort but it’s fair to say that although the Irish will be satisfied with Les Bleus’ early exit, such a flagrant waste of their place in the tournament must rankle. Their flights home were economy class, but only because their first option was unavailable.
The South African victory ensured Bafana Bafana went out on goal difference and with their heads held high. At 2-0, with a man advantage and bossing the game, they had some hope of a miracle but Mexico didn’t concede any further goals and when the French pulled one back it ended all realistic hope. Four points is still a better return than many expected and despite South Africa becoming the first host nation to bow out in the first round, Parreira’s men have impressed enough to suggest another World Cup mightn’t be too far into the future.
Greece’s Odyssey ended with them failing to inspire despite overcoming their Achilles’ heel by scoring their first two goals – and even their first win – in World Cup history against the ten men of Nigeria. Those achievements at least ensured they wouldn’t be remembered as the first team to get robbed in South Africa. Of all the countries to lose money. What Chaos! Please excuse my taking the chance to get as many lazy gags and Appoling puns in as possible.
And Nigeria, who were in it right to the end once Greece’s defeat was assured, will rue their second-match reverse to that same team. After only going down to Argentina by a single goal, the defeat to the Greeks meant a draw wasn’t enough against South Korea. They weren’t without their chances but their performance in front of goal made the Greek bankers look positively frugal.
MUST-SEE: This World Cup has already seen play-acting get rewarded, with Abdul-Kader Keïta and Arturo Vidal both overreacting well enough to get their opponents sent off. In that spirit, here are three of the finest in World Cup history. The bronze medal goes to Rivaldo, who also got an opponent sent off in 2002 when the ball was kicked at him. Unfortunately, actually being hit by the ball has cost him a higher position. The silver medallist comes from this year – already mentioned by Shane Palmer in a previous World Cup column – the disgraceful Daniele De Rossi effort against Paraguay. While he loses marks for not actually conning the referee, he nonetheless earns extra credit for another dive against New Zealand to earn the equalising penalty. But the gold, for conning the ref into giving his opponent a red card in a World Cup final, goes to Jürgen Klinsmann of West Germany in 1990. The leap over the opponent to avoid actual injury, the writhing at the end as if he’d been shot and, most importantly, a bounce that had to inspire The Rock in some way. Who says cheaters never prosper?
EYEBROW-RAISER: Perhaps the final word on the French, as Raymond Domenech evaluates his team’s performance against South Africa:
‘(The team) showed real heart, real fight, real generosity of spirit out there today.’
Delusional to the very end…
REASON TO CHEER ON THE USA: There’s something delightfully quaint about the US competing in sports at which they tend not to do so well. Soccer has never been their strong suit, even though they finished third at the very first World Cup back in 1930. Cricket is another. Australia played the USA at cricket in 2004. It didn’t go well for them. We could have a rematch, on a different pitch, in the second round should the cards fall correctly. Or perhaps you’re just an Everton fan, with Tim Howard and (briefly) Landon Donovan featuring for them last season.
REASON TO CHEER AGAINST THE USA: Perhaps you’re a Liverpool fan (you poor thing). If not, just think of the ten most objectionable ‘celebrities’ you can and imagine them delighted with a win and doing the ‘USA’ chant. Oh fine, just think of Bush.
TONIGHT: The carnage will continue with Groups C and D dropping their dead weight. Slovenia leads Group C by virtue of defeating Algeria, while the USA and England have each drawn their first two matches – the Americans ahead on goals scored. So a Slovenia draw will get them through, almost certainly at the expense of Fabio Capello’s men. Despite being seemingly overmatched thus far, Algeria have only given up the one goal but would require a miracle to make it through. But they can make it difficult for the States, who despite their comeback against Slovenia should never have let themselves get two goals down. Expect them to wake up enough to get past a defiant Algeria. Then there’s the team who looked for a while as though they might challenge for the trophy. Not the one being lifted on July 11 but the one currently on an economy-class flight to Paris. Perhaps John Terry’s antics have been overblown but their poor form on the pitch cannot be ignored. Meanwhile, the team ranked 79th before qualifying began have shown themselves to have been worth of their current position at the top of the group. Valter Birsa, one of the finds of the tournament, can switch wings with Andraž Kirm to either blunt Ashley Cole or perhaps more likely outpace Glen Johnson. Therein may lie Slovenia’s best hope. But really, England should be fine. Easy: Slovenia 1-2 England, USA 2-0 Algeria. At 4:30am the nation again gets up but unlike in Germany, there can be no relying upon Harry Kewell for a late equaliser. There is no Kewell, and no less than a victory will do – and an emphatic one at that unless Ghana can beat Germany. Can that happen? Save for another soft red card, probably not. While the two teams will still want to avoid a draw in case of a Serbian victory, Ghana hardly seized their man advantage against the Socceroos, and only beat Serbia with a penalty. The Serbians improved immeasurably against the Germans, although their victory could be at least partially attributed to Klose’s sending off. Another performance like that will make life too difficult for the Socceroos, but perhaps a letdown is on the cards: Australia 1-0 Serbia, Ghana 0-2 Germany.
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.