Upstart takes on the World (Cup): Day 15

25 June 2010

Written by: Evan Harding

John Lennon. Alicia Keys. 1200 Techniques. Culture Club. Black Eyed Peas. Superheist. Radiohead.

No, it’s not an audition list for the house band at the Elephant & Wheelbarrow on a Friday night. Bedrock are doing a wonderful job, and rumours have it that the first name on the list is probably not available.

If you guessed that they all had written songs with ‘Karma’ in the title, give yourself a big, gold, two-thumbed pat on the back. Yet, trawling through the pages of, there doesn’t appear to be anything that quite puts the right touch on the Italian team’s elimination at the hands of Slovakia last night.

The Azzurri wasn’t even done in by a blatant dive or a suspect penalty so, sorry Alicia, what went around didn’t exactly come around. But many Australians will nonetheless find it hard not to indulge in a spot of schadenfreude at Italy’s exit. Ultimately, they were exposed to be too old, too slow, and simply not up to standard. Marcello Lippi accepted the blame for the shock defeat, regretting his team selection, but you have to wonder how far they would have gone with their other troops.

Meanwhile New Zealand also crashed out of the tournament, shamefully unable to win a single game on the way to third place in their group. Come on, Slovakia were making their tournament debut and Paraguay went out in the first round in 2006, in a group containing Trinidad & Tobago no less! Just pathetic, really.

Of course, some may argue that the All Whites did indeed go all white, despite wearing all black. With creditable draws against more recognised nations, Denmark’s Own Winston Reid and the bros can have every confidence of being around in Brazil in four years.

Japan took a leaf out of Diego Maradona’s book and showed that it is indeed possible to score a goal from a free kick with the Jabulani, sending two past Thomas Sørensen on the way to a 3-1 victory and qualification for the Round of 16 for just the second time in their history. The Jabulani has been used in the J-League, suggesting that those countries who have had a chance to get used to the ball are likely to go further in this tournament. Other countries who have used the ball in their domestic leagues include the USA and Germany while national teams who have had extra time to get used to it include Argentina and… France. Never mind.

In the dead rubber, the Netherlands rolled on, the most notable things about the match being two substitute appearances: Arjen Robben, returning from injury; and Rigobert Song, returning from another planet. The former got around the latter and fired off a shot which rebounded to Klaas-Jan Huntelaar for the winner, in case you were wondering. You probably weren’t. Like a blindfolded Yoko knitting, it’s irrelevant detail.

MUST-SEE: Ahead of Côte d’Ivoire’s attempt to do a Portugal on the gutsy/poor/dead men walking North Koreans, this piece from The Guardian by Pauline Bax is a gauge of the mood in a country still reeling from the 2002 civil war. Short, not particularly deep, but enjoyable. You want them to do it.

EYEBROW-RAISER: In the Dutch town of Hoogezand-Sappemeer, about 300 people showed up to make themselves the most annoying group of people on the planet after mayor Yvonne van Maastrigt organised what is apparently the loudest-ever vuvuzela blow.

‘It’s not awful. It’s just fun to have a toy like that and make a lot of noise with it so I thought, okay, we try and make a spectacle from it and we try to make as much noise as you can possibly make from a vuvuzela,’ she said.

Rumours of around 300 Hoogezand-Sappemeer residents requiring urgent proctology appointments have been greatly exaggerated.

REASON TO CHEER ON CÔTE D’IVOIRE: Aside from the above? Their pursuit of the ten-goal turnaround required to send them to the second round should be interesting, to say the least. An on-song Didier Drogba is thrilling to watch. They are the last of the francophonie, therefore the last chance to say: ‘Allez Les Elephants!’

REASON TO CHEER AGAINST CÔTE D’IVOIRE: Known as the Côte d’Ivoire in ALL languages? Australie, États-Unis, Allemagne, Pays-Bas for crying out loud! Eire even sets aside ‘Ireland’ in English. Quelle arrogance! Speaking of arrogant… Drogba. This is someone who wanted to take a penalty on the final day of the Premier League season so that he could win the Golden Boot. Never mind the fact that the title was on the line, it was the individual honour Drogba craved. And when he didn’t get away with it, he sulked. A sulking Drogba is not thrilling to watch.

TONIGHT: Concurrent to Côte d’Ivoire’s attempt to humiliate the North Koreans to the point of potential execution is Brazil facing their colonial oppressors, Portugal. Until Portugal’s second-half evisceration of the Korean defence on Monday night, this had the potential to be a must-see. It still promises to be a fight for the top spot, which may or may not see them avoid Spain in the second round. Kaka’s much-discussed red card will keep him from facing Real Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo, who is yet to produce statue-building form and may struggle again, unless of course he’s rested. Portuguese left-back Fábio Coentrão is another contender to pick up a splinter injury, while Brazilian coach Dunga has suggested he may too rest stars. So, all bets are off. The question is how many Drogba and friends can get against North Korea. The answer is not enough: DPR Korea 1-4 Côte d’Ivoire, Portugal 0-0 Brazil. Group H is worth getting up for, with a conceivable situation of three teams ending up on six points – wins to Spain and Switzerland would see just that occurring. The three teams concerned do at least have various tie-breakers to settle the situation. It would take far too long to go through the possibilities here, but for those wondering, it goes goal difference, then goals scored, then (as the three teams cannot still be tied) head-to-head. Due to Spain beating Honduras 2-0 and the other matches being all 1-0 results, any win will be enough for the European champions to go through in either first or second. Any further explanations may result in an exploded head. The matchup of the two La Rojas should also produce football so beautiful that watching any of the top 10 tear-jerkers of all time will thereafter be a catatonic experience. Harry Potter aka Andrés Iniesta should return for Spain, who will be no doubt hoping Fernando Torres can get a shot in the general vicinity of goal. Failing that, a David Villa solo would suffice, preferably two. Chile, with the stocky, slow, yet remarkably effective Humberto Suazo up front, need to convert their Alan Partridge-style liquid football into more than one goal per game – should they miss out on qualification that will be the reason. In the other match, Switzerland are powered purely on the force of coach Ottmar Hitzfeld’s will. Think of a Swiss-German Chuck Norris, except his martial arts skills have been replaced by tactical nous. Honduras is yet to score a goal in the tournament and it’s hard to see them doing the same against a defence that kept out Spain. This is a nation that, and here’s proof stats can mean anything, until early Tuesday morning had not conceded in a World Cup finals since 1994. Three teams, six points each, and the red teams to go through together: Chile 1-2 Spain, Switzerland 1-0 Honduras.

¡Hasta mañana!

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.