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
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!
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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.
Scottish football fans have a new hate figure - ITVs
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 hes 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 sides shortcomings.
But back to Ivy. Credit where its due, he managed
to last a full seven minutes of the opening World Cup match
before mentioning 1966. Hes a class act. You
wouldnt 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 wasnt 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 Ivys 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: Dont rub
them. Count them.
South Koreas easy win over Poland in that game, coupled
with South Africas fighting draw in their opener
with Paraguay is putting a better gloss on Scotlands
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 havent lost our senses. Were talking about
the USA. Who did you think we meant?
At just about every World Cup, theres
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 its 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, lets 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 games greatest
festival. Add Norway, Ireland and Greece to
the list of infrequent participants and it makes Scotlands
record look a whole lot better. Yes, its just a small
crumb of comfort, but right now we need all we can get.