Tuesday, July 06, 2010

It's been a great World Cup so far

I've said this a few times to people, but I feel I have really conected with the World Cup this time around. I can't remember much of the 2006 World Cup. I can recall England scraping a win against Trinidad & Tobago, and Ronaldo getting Rooney sent off, and Zidane's inexplicable headbutting of Marco Materazzi in the final and that's about it.

But this time round there seem to have been some really memorable things.

First off, England were an utter crapfest. I know I'm only saying this now, but my wife and my Dad are both witnesses that I predicted England wouldn't get out of their (ridiculously easy) group. Okay, I was wrong on that, but they barely scraped it, and then they met Germany.

That's another thing, I haven't seen a German international team play the way this team play - with pace and verve. Normally German sides play percentages, build from the back, dominate the midfield and score from set pieces.

This side has the usual Germanic swagger, but when they play on the break and pass the ball into the feet of the runners it's joyful, irresistible football. Oezil's dinked chip-pass to Klose for the fourth goal against Argentina was magical, as was Klose letting the ball drop to within a whisker of the grass before side-footing the volley home. Watch it and watch it again to see an absolute masterclass in finishing.

I never thought I'd get excited by Germany, but I'm excited.

There have been spectacular exits too. France self-destructed in the group stages. Italy were put out by relative minnows in their group too. England, well, stuttered into a mismatched game with Germany that ended in hefty defeat - a game that will live on in infamy for a goal that should have been but wasn't given. Holland unexpectedly put out Brazil.

And then there was Ghana's misfortune. To miss a penalty in injury time, for the most blatant handball blocked shot on the line I have ever seen, is one thing. But then to lose the penalty shoot-out five minutes later was a travesty of justice. I watched the game and could barely watch Gyan take the penalty. Somehow I just knew he would miss. And when it went to penalties I knew Uruguay would win. Why? Because football is a bastard mistress who torments her lovers with harsh injustices.

Which of course is why we love it so.

And tonight's game had drama too. Holland got a goal, loosened up, let Diego Forlan score, and got edgy, then got a fortuitous goal and scored a third through one of the best headed goals ever and were enjoying themselves again. Until injury time, when Uruguay worked a training ground set play and bizarrely scored, to set up a tense final three minutes when it looked like the most unlikely comeback ever might just happen.

Fortunately for the Dutch (and my Holland-supporting spouse) Uruguay's persistence didn't pay off. Holland are through to their first World Cup final since 1978 and have as much chance as anyone of lifting the trophy.

And tomorrow they will find out who they play in the final: Germany or Spain. I think it will be the Germans, but Spain may do better against European opposition than they did against Paraguay in the last round where they edged out a very close game 1-0.

I actually feel excited.

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