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Upstart takes on the World (Cup): Day 4

In his look at Day 4 of the World Cup, Evan Harding believes in the power of positive thinking and suggests an upset on the cards for tonight.

Being negative is easy.

Pessimists get the chance to put up the barriers against a crushing blow by expecting the worst, allowing one to depart the scene with some level of composure. And similarly in football, Pim Verbeek’s über-defensive set-up was based upon the expectation that Australia would meet younger, faster and more skilful teams during the World Cup. The aim, apparently, was not to concede.

That plan took all of eight minutes to fly out the window as Lukas Podolski blasted past Mark Schwarzer after some lightning-quick play from Zee Germans. Miroslav Klose proved that no matter how easy a chance you miss, another one is never far away. And following a preposterous red card to Tim Cahill early in the second half, the Australians opened up like a ruggedly handsome, yet unfortunately plastered, 20-something uni student who mistakenly believes his taxi driver also provides psychological advice.

Yes, the red card changed the entire course of Australia’s World Cup campaign, now unable to rely on Talisman Tim to come to the rescue for at least one game. Ghana are next, after proving they in fact aren’t terrible without Michael Essien during their 1-0 win over Serbia, Kevin-Prince Boateng filling the gap as capably as could be expected. The Serbs also finished with ten men, as did Algeria, who would be undone by the second absurd goalkeeping blunder in as many days – Faouzi Chaouchi’s effort more Scott Carson than Rob Green.

Ah yes, Rob Green. He is still the talk of the British papers, with four of the top six stories on the Telegraph’s sport page dedicated to that ‘horrible mistake’, as his mother labelled the England keeper. In truth, Mrs Green didn’t chew out her boy, as reported by the ever-so-reliable folk at The Sun, who quoted ‘a family friend’ as saying Mum and Dad are still proud of him. After, of course, remembering to point out that he had also ‘let his gorgeous girlfriend slip through his fingers just weeks before the South Africa tournament began’.

Yet Green is showing that while doubt can always enter one’s head he, at least publicly, is staying positive. Which is more than can be said for Australian captain Lucas Neill, who the day before the match said, ‘They’re a superior team to us… We know we’re going to have to be at our very, very best to get near the German side on the night.’

However true that may have been, those aren’t the kinds of quotes that would give anyone confidence heading into the match. And what’s now quite easy to see is that it’s only going to get worse.

MUST-SEE: Despite some great moments so far there has been a bit of negativity surrounding this World Cup. Between complaining of the noise made by vuvuzelas, the high crime rate in South Africa and a lack of pre-Deutschland goals. Paul Hayward from The Guardian also has noticed the attitudes of foreigners to the first World Cup in Africa and finds a hypocrisy feeding said negativity.

EYEBROW-RAISER: ‘I’ve never seen Andrea looking as sad as this before and already he normally looks sad. Even if he is someone who jokes around, he’s got a face that looks like it’s been hit with a mallet,’ quoth Gennaro Gattuso on injured teammate Andrea Pirlo.

REASON TO CHEER ON CAMEROON: The ‘Indomitable Lions’, one of the great nicknames of world sport, are the most successful African nation in World Cup history. And again, Cameroon could be the best bet for a deep run to thrill the local crowds, powered by Samuel Eto’o, one of the great big-game players of the modern era. He has a point to prove following the ludicrous comment from Roger Milla that the striker had never brought anything to the national team.

REASON TO CHEER AGAINST CAMEROOON: Eto’o can also occasionally be a complete prat. His humanitarian work off the pitch, his fantastic career on it and his leading role in the fight against racism in football are all to be admired, for sure, but his childish threat to withdraw from the World Cup after Milla’s remark was just the latest incident in a string that ensured that Barcelona were keen to move him on even following the most successful season in their history. Besides, after two trebles in a row, hasn’t Eto’o won enough?

TONIGHT: Eto’o and the Indomitable Lions take on a Japanese side that doesn’t appear much any better than the 2006 version that only took one point from their group. Far from a one-man team, Cameroon should however take a huge step towards the knockout stages: Cameroon 1-0 Japan. The ‘early’ match pits the Netherlands against Denmark, who are missing striker Nicklas Bendtner through injury and therefore probably better off. Bendtner’s Arsenal teammate Robin Van Persie leads the Dutch attack that slapped around a supposed ‘Group of Death’ at Euro 2008, although until Arjen Robben returns they may struggle to find the same fluency: Netherlands 2-0 Denmark. And the don’t-hit-snooze-or-you’ll-miss-it match is Italy up against Paraguay, although the defending champions could send you to sleep regardless. That, however, mightn’t be the case here against an attacking Paraguay team that impressed during qualifying. Historically Paraguay don’t win against European teams and Italy don’t lose to South American ones, but we saw last night what a pacy and fluent team can do slow and defensive opposition so I’m backing history to change: Italy 1-2 Paraguay.

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 an ill-conceived $50 bet on France at 18-1.

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