Tuesday, 13 June 2006

Old Ground Covered, New Ground Broken

Australia broke their World Cup scoring duck last night as a very generous Japan surrendered three late goals to Everton’s Tim Cahill and striker John Aloisi. The euphoria was such that it even glossed over the fact that Cahill isn’t Australian – a technicality the Samoan-born player wasn’t dwelling on during the wild celebrations.

Great stuff and a great match, but ohhhhhh, Japan! What about that defending?

Cahill’s first was the result of a 10 yard dash from the line by the Japanese keeper who managed to get precisely zero on the ball, a curious goalkeeping tactic which is fast becoming a feature of the tournament. For Cahill’s second, he was allowed three unhampered touches 18 yards from goal. For Aloisi’s goal, the defending was stunningly ineffectual, allowing a not-that-great striker to waltz Zindane-like into the box as if he had pre-paid tickets.

The irony here is that Japan had chance after chance at 1-0 to put the Aussies away, and will have to vastly improve to take anything off Croatia. For Australia, it’s bring on Brazil.

While the Czechs proved to be the classiest looking side of the competition so far with three terrific goals against the USA, it was the Italy v Ghana match that proved the most interesting encounter of the day.

Ghana looked excellent in the first half, but ran out of steam in the second, leaving only the class of Michael Essien to shine through. Italy on the other hand were solid if less than ruthless in front of goal.

I was disappointed firstly that Lippi left Alessandro Del Piero out of the side, then with Del Piero himself and his lacklustre performance once he did appear, albeit as a late substitute.

Given the win, obviously no-one is going to argue with Lippi’s tactics (except me) but you’d think the man who first gave Del Piero a game would realise just what the great man can do for his side.

Without Del Piero, Italy rely heavily on Totti, who played behind the front two last night, leaving Italy with a very exploitable narrow middle three. With Del Piero in for the largely ineffective Gillardino, you’d have the possibility of something special, plus a guy who gets you free kicks all around the box thanks to his control and ability to hold off defenders.

Perhaps his omission has something to do with his association with the Italian tragedy of 2000. With seconds to go, Del Piero looked a dead cert to take a glorious chance to make Italy European champions. Instead, he missed and France came back to win 2-1. In some ways, despite further domestic success with Juventus, Del Piero’s reputation has never really recovered. I however, feel his redemption may come in this tournament.

Which is a round about way of saying “Italy are Fizzy’s dark horse for the cup”.

Brazil debut today, which reminds me of something. A few years ago, an article I had written was rejected by "When Saturday Comes" for talking about things that had already been covered. It was an entirely fair point.

How refreshing it was then to read about how Brazil, with their close ties to Nike and other corporate sponsors, were not the peoples champions they make themselves out to be for at least the tenth time in some journalistic form in the latest issue of WSC.

Personal bitterness aside, I think making this rather obvious point is churlish to say the least. Of all the teams at the World Cup, the Brazilians are the ones most aware of their duty to entertain, the players whose financial success we begrudge the least.

Yes, the Brazilian stars are ridiculously wealthy. Yes the team is a brand, a vastly powerful marketing tool. But they are not merely thus, they are a wonderful football team, capable of breathtaking skill and vastly entertaining play, which is why they are so valuable to marketers in the first place.

I’m no fan of corporations or their lackeys but at least these constructed “peoples champions” actually give something to the people; a sense of magical possibility that even the likes of Nike cannot corrupt.

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