England’s 1-0 victory over Slovenia on Wednesday afternoon consisted of a much improved performance, but a worrying inability to make that superiority count by scoring goals. We now predictably find ourselves facing old foes Germany on Sunday, followed by a quarter-final against Diego Maradona’s Argentina.
World cup domination
The World Cup has so far conquered all before it. Despite a concern that a number of the early matches were boring, and with many of the favourites slow to get into their stride, the competition has burst into life. Even the weaker teams in this tournament have sufficient experience and tactical skill to pull off some impressive results, such as New Zealand’s surprise draw against Italy. This has resulted in very few dead rubbers, and something hanging on almost every match. The extent of the coverage on TV, radio and especially online, combined with the excitement in South Africa itself is unprecedented, and I have never known so many people follow the tournament so closely.
Tennis at Wimbledon has been totally overshadowed, with top players playing in front of sparse crowds even when England are not playing football. In typical British fashion, an inconsequential tennis match between two journeyman players which has so far lasted three days has been hyped up as the height of sportsmanship In addition, the Queen is visiting Wimbledon today for the first time in 33 years to give the event a boost, but I think that whatever tricks they pull Wimbledon 2010 will be very much in the shadow of the World Cup.
One of the most entertaining aspects of the World Cup so far, has been watching the French squad and now the French Football Federation disintegrate. It is extraordinary that France has so many world class players who play fantastic football for their clubs, including Chelsea, Manchester United, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and yet the French football management obviously has not got a clue how to handle these star names. The dysfunctional French coach Raymond Domenech even ended the tournament by snubbing the South African coach and upsetting the host nation.
More ridiculous still is the reaction in France where the players have been pilloried for everything from their poor social backgrounds to their inability to function as role models to French youth. French Socialist Party spokesman Jerome Cahuzac blamed the English Premier League for the French shambles, ‘It’s all about individualism, egotism, and everyone for themselves’ .
Rather than blaming a myriad of extraneous factors, it would be better if the politicians kept out of it, and the relevant football authorities examined why these players play so well in the Premier League but not for France.
Football has never had as strong a grip in France as in the surrounding countries of Italy, Germany and England. It was the hosting and winning of the World Cup by France in 1998 which turned football into the national game, and the current shenanigans could unfortunately send it back down the plughole.
Thierry Henry has an audience with President Sarkozy to discuss the debacle and the way ahead, but this real life soap opera is set to run and run.
I spent Tuesday evening debating elite sport, including the World Cup, at the Brighton Salon.
After the debate we watched the tail end of Argentina’s victory over Greece. I realised talking to people in the bar just how unpopular Diego Maradona still is, and that although many people respect him, that respect is given grudgingly. Maradona is one of the greatest players of all time and yet it seems this counts for little against the Hand of God goal which he scored in the 1986 World Cup against England.
Grudges in football seem to die hard. In France David Ginola has threatened to sue his former French manager Gerard Houllier for once again blaming him for France’s failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the USA.
‘2010, 17 years after, when I see the same person go on television and talk about this event where they treated me like a criminal for too long a cross, I’m sorry, I find this over the top,’ said Ginola. ‘It’s enough. I’m so sick of it…I have decided to press charges.’
One of football’s great strengths is to allow people to let off steam, hold irrational prejudices, support your team against all others. But it does seem unfortunate when people are unable to appreciate the skill of a footballer as great as Diego Maradona.