World Cup Group Games

Upsets galore. E****nd v Argentina. Clive Tyldesley



Second group matches update. With each team having one match to play, only Spain and Brazil are through to the next phase. Poland have joined the four previously eliminated nations and their 4-0 defeat by Portugal leaves the results tally after 32 games as:

13 one-goal wins
10 draws
6 two-goal wins
3 wins by greater than two goals.

No fewer than 25 countries are fighting for the 14 places available alongside the Spaniards and Brazilians. The next four days are bound to be gripping. What a tournament!

World Cup - sets

Never can there have been so many shocks in the first phase of a World Cup. Sure, we've seen upsets before. But to see the three tournament favourites - Argentina, France and Italy all facing possible elimination before the knockout phase is unprecedented.

In each case there has been a good reason for the defeats they have suffered. Argentina were complacent against an English team hell-bent on revenge for 1986 and 1998. France lost to a team who play all their domestic football in that country and had the motivation of an ex-colony. And the Italians were undone by diabolical refereeing coupled with inexplicable defensive lapses.

It was pretty foolish to say here a few days ago that Italy and Argentina looked on course to clash in the Final. Our only mitigation is that everyone else has got it wrong as well.

All three may yet come good but all three not only have to win their final match (in the case of France by two goals) to guarantee going through, they also have to play teams undefeated thus far. The omens are not good.

The shock results together with the generally high standard of play is turning this into the most fascinating of compettions. Too often in the past negativity has ruled. Never more so than in Italia 90 and to a lesser extent the USA in 1994 when only eight teams were eliminated in the first phase and four of the third placed sides in the six groups reached the second round.

The benefits of moving to a 32 team tourney were demonstrated in France in 1998 and that decision to increase the number of participants has been justified in Korea and Japan. Of the 29 matches completed at the time of writing, only two have ended in a winning margin of greater than two goals. Fears that the increased number of teams would lead to a deluge of embarrassing scorelines have been unjustified.

There have been six two-goal wins, 13 by a solitary goal and eight draws. Proof, if it were needed, of just how tight this tourney is. Staging the competition in Asia has also reduced the inbuilt advantage enjoyed by Europe and Latin America when the cup is contested on either European soil or the American hemisphere.

For proof of this look no further than the CONCACAF countries from North and Central America. Traditional whipping boys in past tournaments, these countries are enjoying their best World Cup ever. In five games played by the three countries represented (Costa Rica, Mexico and the USA) they are undefeated with four wins and a draw. This won't last but as I write this is the only federation whose representatives remain unbeaten.

With just three of the second matches in the group stage to be completed, only Spain and Brazil are guaranteed a place in the last sixteen. South Korea or the USA could possibly join them. Only China, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Slovenia are definitely out. Their number may be swelled by Tunisia and either Portugal or Poland before the final group games
So the worst possible scenario for the final group games means that 23 of the 32 will be fighting for 13 places. At best there will be 26 sides in with a shout and 14 places up for grabs.

While all of this makes for a fascinating tournament the two heavy defeats should serve as a warning. China, beaten 4-0 by Brazil, and Saudi Arabia, thrashed 8-0 by Germany, are the two lowest ranked sides in the competition according to FIFA. Both are ranked higher than Scotland. So are we worse than either of these two teams? I doubt it. While FIFA's rankings are accurate for a good deal of the time, when they get it wrong, they get it wrong spectacularly. How else to explain that Colombia, who could only finish sixth in the South American qualifying competition are now ranked fifth in theworld?

En - GRRRRR - land

I WAS going to say well done. You survived an opening ten minutes when it looked like Argentina were going to roll all over you.

I WAS going to say well done. You withstood a constant assault for the last twenty minutes and held out with plenty to spare.

I WAS going to say well done. For the rest of the match you clearly held the upper hand and could easily have scored three or four times.

I WAS going to say well done. Who cares if Owen cheated to win a penalty? You've been waiting sixteen years for revenge for the 'Hand of God.' So why not the 'Dive of St Michael'?

I WAS going to say well done. Eriksson's tactical acumen has seldom been better displayed. He ignored media pressure to play Sheringham from the start and went with Butt, the sole change from the disappointing performance against the Swedes. He outfoxed opponents arrogant enough to name their team two days in advance.

I WAS going to say well done. Any coach and team who force the opposition to replace Veron, Batistuta and Kily Gonzalez during the course of a match clearly has the opposition rattled.

I WAS going to say well done. How appropriate for your saviour this time to be the man so foully vilified last time. I hope some of the knuckle-scrapers who poured the vilest abuse at Beckham and his wife and son felt suitably contrite. But I doubt it.

I WAS going to say well done. With the way results have gone, a path to the semi-finals has suddenly, if unexpectedly, opened up.

I WAS going to say well done. Clearly the role of underdog suited you. How refreshing not to have to listen to your plans for world domination prior to the game.

I WAS going to say well done.

Then three things made me change my mind. Firstly, there was the immediate reversion to type by the media. The BBC's pet Scot Alan Hansen (best remembered for his foul-up which put Scotland out of the World Cup in 1982) started spouting nonsense about this being one of the all-time great World Cup games. It wasn't even one of the best matches in this tournament so far. To attempt to put it in the same class as, to pick out just two examples, France V West Germany in 1982 or Italy v West Germany in 1970, seemed a pathetic attempt to ingratiate himself with his hosts. Stop it Hansen. The brown nose doesn't go with the smart shirts.

Then, out for a meal with my wife on Friday evening, my enjoyment was thoroughly spoiled by the surrounding table. They proclaimed, with voices so loud I wouldn't have been surprised if that other tame Scot Ally McCoist wasn't nodding in agreement 300 miles away in London, that it really was all over. Forget Brazil, Italy, Spain, Germany. FIFA might as well stop the tournament now. Just hand the trophy over to Becks for safe keeping until 2006 or 2010 or whenever. For no one can stop the greatest country on the planet.

Finally I listened to Peter Drury commentating on the Italy-Croatia match the next day. In a game ruined by the dreadful refereeing of Graham Poll (and this is not an anti-English jibe, English referees by and large are better than those appointed by the SFA), speculation turned to the subject of who would referee the Final. Drury opined that it wouldn't be Poll. Not because of the way in which he robbed the Italians of victory (bad enough in the view of this writer who has heavily invested with his stockbroker Mr Ladbroke in an Italian triumph). No, said Drury, Poll couldn't officiate at the final "BECAUSE ENGLAND WILL BE IN IT."

They're not even in the next round yet but there it was, in all it's glory. The inbuilt arrogance of the footballing master race, displayed nakedly in front of millions. One good result and they are world-beaters. The best. And as I seethed inwardly at this condescending pap, I wondered how those two Uncle Jocks, Hansen and McCoist, felt. Do they share this view? Sadly, the answer is they probably do.

The euphoria is everywhere. You could have got stoned if you simply inhaled the air for a couple of minutes on Friday evening. They're going to win. It's coming home. And with what justification? Did Senegal think the same when they beat France? Or Croatia when they won against Italy? Or the USA after their display against Portugal? No. Such assumptions occur only in England.

Here's the bald facts. They've won for the second time in nine matches but winning the next five in succession to become World champions will be a dawdle. On the FA's website 61% of respondents think England are the team of the tournament so far. The only alternatives on offer are Spain and Brazil. What must the two co-hosts, the Senegalese and the Americans have to do to get a mention?

There are two World Cups taking place. One is a thrilling, exciting tournament shaping up to be the best ever. It's taking place in Korea and Japan and is watched in every country in the world bar one. The other tournament is taking place in England and its outcome is a foregone conclusion.

And they still wonder why we don't want them to win? As I said at the start, I WAS going to say well done.

Poison Ivy

Scottish football fans have a new hate figure - ITV’s Clive ‘Ivy’’* Tyldesley. The commentator established his credentials as the new Jimmy Hill during the European Cup Final at Hampden when he described two fans who invaded the pitch as Glaswegians who were bringing the city into disrepute. It later transpired that the offenders were a Spaniard and a Scouser. Still, they were wearing ‘jimmy’ hats and we probably all look the same to Ivy.

Speaking of Jimmy Hill, am I the only Scot on the planet who thinks he’s been unfairly treated over the years by our supporters? Answer: probably. But, for me anyway, Hill has always been one of the more perceptive football analysts and is usually a lot quicker than most of his countrymen to recognise their national side’s shortcomings.

But back to Ivy. Credit where it’s due, he managed to last a full seven minutes of the opening World Cup match before mentioning 1966. He’s a class act. You wouldn’t think anyone capable of citing a reference to that year in a match between South Korea and Poland but somehow Ivy managed it. He even worked in a name check for Bobby Charlton! ( this one was down to the BBC. Who cares? THEY all SOUND the same to me)

That wasn’t quite as good as Ivy's performance during the France -Senegal opener. As one of the biggest shocks of all time unfolded right in front of our eyes, all Ivy could do was witter on about the forthcoming England - Sweden game, telling us we were “having Sweden for breakfast.” A rather indigestible meal as it turned out.

But not for the bold Ivy. Barely five minutes after England had taken the lead he was busy speculating on whether any of the subs would be given a run-out in the second half. No suggestion that there was still an hour to play and a game to win. Sweden bossed the second half, equalising, and in the end English blushes were only spared by a poor first touch from Henrik Larsson which drove him too wide to send his last-minute effort on target.

At least the South Korea - Poland match provided us with the quote of the tournament so far from Ivy’s sidekick, Joe Royle. After a player received a hefty whack from the ball in an area usually referred to on TV as ‘the groin,’ Royle commented: “Don’t rub them. Count them.”

South Korea’s easy win over Poland in that game, coupled with South Africa’s fighting draw in their opener with Paraguay is putting a better gloss on Scotland’s Far East tour than appeared to be the case at the time. Though the real test of how we would have fared is by looking at our group qualifiers Belgium and Croatia. And after a draw and a defeat respectively in their opening games, there is nothing to suggest that we would have done any better - or any worse - than usual.

* Ivy - after Ivy Tilsley, former Coronation Street character. A bitter, twisted old shrew.


Sincere apologies to all reading this. When reporting on World Cup betting last week and saying we wouldn't presume to tell you what to bet, we were being far too modest. We should have told you that this website plunged in on Senegal against France at 9-1.

The reasons for our outrageous confidence were based on two factors: A) The absent Zidane, and B) The fact that almost the entire Senegal squad earn their living in French football. It was just too reminiscent of Ireland V England at the 1988 European Championships.

However, had we given you that bet (and the England-Sweden draw) we'd also have advised you to take Cameroon against Ireland and Croatia against Mexico so it's probably just as well we kept quiet.

As for the Final, we've seen nothing yet to deflect us from our original picks of Italy and Argentina. Though Spain, picking almost all their players from the best League in the world must surely come good sometime.


Sometimes we have been accused of being a little churlish in our attitude towards a certain white-shirted, English-speaking team. Not this time. What a performance! What a result! They deserve all the praise flowing their way.

No, we haven’t lost our senses. We’re talking about the USA. Who did you think we meant?


At just about every World Cup, there’s a highly-fancied side, ranked just behind the usual suspects, who proceed to make a total arse of themselves. Colombia in 1994, Scotland (arguably) in 1978. This time it’s Portugal. The so-called golden generation was comprehensively outplayed by the USA and the 3-2 scoreline does not do the Americans justice.

And as we wallow in the sorrow of non-participation at this World Cup, let’s spare a thought for the Portuguese. Always a highly-talented team with clubs ranked high in European football, amazingly this is only the THIRD time that Portugal have taken part in the World Cup - 1966 and 1986 being the others.

Also in this category are Denmark. The Danes too are making just their third appearance in the game’s greatest festival. Add Norway, Ireland and Greece to the list of infrequent participants and it makes Scotland’s record look a whole lot better. Yes, it’s just a small crumb of comfort, but right now we need all we can get.



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