In reviewing the season finales of three great US imports for Telly Addict this week – Boss, forever, on More4; The Good Wife, for now, on More4; and Modern Family, for now, on Sky Atlantic – it dawned on me that Nathan Lane stole scenes in two out of three of them. What an asset he is, whether playing a gay wedding planner, or a possibly straight court-appointed trustee – how does Broadway operate while he’s away? Also, the grim documentary series on BBC2 Police Under Pressure; and I am proud to present the clip of David Cameron trying to be cool by mentioning Game Of Thrones on Prime Minister’s Questions, courtesy BBC Parliament. Except he said, “Games Of Thrones.” Of course he did.
It’s a knockout. And, as the canopy of shade creeps diagonally across pitches from Manaus in the north to Porto Alegre in the south, we have borne witness to the birth of the “cooling break”, whose very name refreshes those of us at home, where temperatures are not in the thirties and humidity a lot less than 66%. The hallucinations constantly threatened if the players don’t rehydrate are all happening to us, the armchair spectators. With the group stages over and my Guardian World Cup Guide fastidiously spidered with numbers, we’re at that point where every match counts. Even, on a low level, Costa Rica Greece, which I forewent last night in order to catch up on Glastonbury, but turned out to have gone to dratted penalties (5-3 to Costa Rica). Aside from the sight of Adrian Chiles in tight shorts with his legs wide apart under the garden table last night on ITV, during the channel’s unique on-the-patio bit before the game (he dresses to the left, cock fans), there’s little to complain about. Suárez is long gone – subsequently joined, connectedly, by Uruguay, after a sound thrashing by Colombia. The narrative (and I love a narrative, as has been pointed out to me on Twitter) is that one superstar is gone, and another is born: 22-year-old striker James Rodriguez, whose 29th-minute volley is being talked about as the goal of the tournament – and that’s with stiff competition.
As already established, the post-England phase of any international cup is always my favourite part. No more residual stress about whether or not “our boys” can prove, or improve, their world ranking, and the sheer joy of being able to cheer on whichever team I like, switching allegiance mid-game if I fancy. I do not blame the whole of Uruguay for the developmental and denial issues of Suárez, although the shine did come off them as a result of his toothmanship and when Colombia went one up with That Goal, I pinned my allegiance to their yellow shirts, perhaps in subliminal solidarity with the hickey-marked Italy, or with Gloria from Modern Family.
Either way, poster boy Rodriguez, who’s now scored in all four of his World Cup games, delivered a magic moment when he chested, then left-footed a 25-yarder past the Uruguay goalie. To quote from the write-up by the BBC’s Phil McNulty, who will have seen and described more goals than I ever will do, “It was the most perfect combination of technique and talent, drawing gasps from around this iconic stadium when it was replayed on the four giant screens that hang from the roof of the vast bowl.”
What a game Brazil Colombia will be on Friday (Colombia’s first ever quarter final). Another serious South American derby, especially now that Brazil have recovered their mojo. Their victory against Chile in the first knockout match may have been decided on penalties – just checking: nobody wants a World Cup match to go to penalties do they? – but it was no kickabout in the 120 minutes preceding.
A goal apiece from Brazil’s Alan Davies-haired David Luis and Chile’s Sanchez evened things out in the first half-hour, but the turning point came in the second half: a disallowed goal from Hulk, who appeared to use his bicep before getting one past Claudio Bravo, an anatomical subtlety identified and penalised by brave British ref Howard Webb, whose shiny head always makes me think of my last editor at the NME, and my own Uncle Phil, who was a professional referee in his prime, which seemed supercool to me as a boy. (We witnessed him spraying the medicinal-smelling Ralgex onto his legs before a game, which was an eye-opener. It was like he operated in another world and yet he was Uncle Phil.) Webb was at least balanced: he denied a penalty appeal by both sides. Much for the pundits to unpick at half-time.
Those penalties. It was hot out there and even those used to the stifling humidity and wilting temperatures didn’t really want to play on for another 30 minutes. But there it was. Somebody must always go home empty handed from now on. Or empty-armed in Hulk’s case. If this game had been blocked and written in a writers’ room, then Hulk, so ambiguously denied his second, would-be-decisive goal, would have scored Brazil’s winning penalty, thus redeeming himself, and allowing Howard Webb to get home from work safely and sleep more easily. As it was, Hulk’s shot was saved by the estimable Bravo – bravo! – but it was Julio Cesar’s denial of Sanchez’s penalty kick – hail, Cesar! – that sealed it at 3-2 for the hosts. Tense, yes, a ridiculous in-out way to decide a match so steeped in chance and subtlety, but the shootout was not without nuance: Neymar’s mindfuck shuffle was quality entertainment.
In our house, we’re still unable to get over the image of Holland’s star striker as a character in Game Of Thrones: Iron Robin. But this is a minor impediment to the enjoyment of watching him lead a seriously below-par team to a squeaked victory against my favourites Mexico. I decided they were my favourites during the first half, when they gave as good as they got and their first quarter final in 28 years seemed a delicious possibility. I love to watch Holland pass, but they couldn’t break the Mexican wall. If I had more analytical skills, I’d tell you precisely why like Glenn Hoddle did at half-time when it was still 0-0, but I find it difficult to follow him. It was 38.8C out there, and fans unlucky enough to be sat in the sun literally abandoned their seats. If both teams had agreed only to play in the shade throughout, I would have taken my hat off to them, and then put it back on again for protection. It may have explained the Dutch failure to convert. The Netherlands is not a hot country, and the orangemen (sorry) who aren’t bald, have shaggy dog hair – neither ideal in a bake-off.
I know this much, Mexico’s keeper Guillermo Ochoa was the man of the match. Commentator Sam Matterface may have mocked him for looking like something out of an “80s fitness video” (he favours a thick headband to keep his head looking like a tied-up bunch of fresh carrots), but his quick-witted ability saw a parade of Dutch chances punched, slapped or body-bounced off the line. When Mexico’s Dos Santos put them one-up at the start of the second half from the fabled 25 yards (I don’t even know what a yard looks like), things really hotted up. Holland didn’t equalise until the 88th minute – despite Iron Robin’s repeated attempts to lie down in the penalty area and feign injury – but the man we call V2 Schneider (but is actually called Wesley Sneijder) turned it around in style. Hallucinatory extra time seemed inevitable, but Robin finally had his way, earned a penalty after a Marquez trip-up, and Easter Island-browed substitute Klaas Jan Huntelaar scored the winner from the spot. As you will see from this picture, the wrong player is called Hulk.
Because I remained a loyal Mexico supporter to the end, telling anyone who’d listen, including our cat, that they deserved to go through, I was crestfallen by Holland’s zero-hour comeback, as juicy and dramatic as it was. Also, as with the Oscars, I like surprises and dislike sure things. But with whole sections of the crowd burnt to a crisp like extras in Threads and welded to their plastic seats like puddles of face paint, Holland celebrated not just getting through to the quarter finals, but to a potentially comfy tie against either Costa Rica or Greece (it turned out to be the former).
On with the games.
Now you’re getting my opaque typographic titles. (Remember Essay1, Essay2, Essay3 at the South African World Cup?) The final group stats are now being carefully felt-tipped into my Guardian World Cup Guide. It’s like I’m ten years old again. When I was a boy, I was football crazy (hard to credit now that I am such a stranger to the leagues, but it’s ultimately down to a lack of available space in my brain and hours in my days). I made my own football quiz books, in which I challenged imaginary readers to name the first division club by a pencil drawing of its badge, or by its stadium, or nickname. I would do players’ name with letters removed and you had to fill in the blanks. I also collected whatever stickers or badges were on sale and diligently swapped them and stuck them in. I remember fondly a set of metal circular badges that came free with Esso petrol and were mounted on a stout card display. I rather expect one of you to now jump up and offer a scan of this long-lost heirloom.
The seemingly disgraceful, infantile and possibly mentally unstable behaviour of Luis Suárez – a very good footballer, whose rehabilitative PFA Player Of The Year award presentation keeps being looped in news reports – has cast an evil-chipmunk shadow across the tournament as we near the end of the groups. The Mexican ref didn’t see him mime sinking his teeth into the shoulder of Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini in the 79th minute of their group game when the score stood at 0-0. Those of us watching in telly couldn’t believe we’d just seen what we thought we’d seen. (Not following club football, I didn’t realise Suárez had previous in this unpleasant area, although sub judice reports are being careful to put speechmarks around “biting”.)
Uruguay’s Diego Godín scored from a Suárez corner – oh, the irony! – before the dust of controversy had had time to settle, and an understandably aggrieved Italy were out. Chiellini pulled down his collar and displayed what looked like human man bitemarks but could have been from a large South American insect who fancied some Italian, and FIFA are investigating it, with the threat of a long ban hanging over Suárez’s baffled, squirrelly head. Amazing how a moment of madness can resonate so odorously across such a magnificent ocean of football.
Ouch. I have picked up on the larger narrative that Suárez went “from pariah to hero” with the PFA last year. I fear he’s just gone back to “pariah” – maybe he’ll be more comfortable there. Tensions run rampant in these high-stakes games. Italy – four-tiimes World Cup winners, of course, who only needed a measly draw to go through – were already a man down, after midfielder Claudio Marchisio was sent off for an upwards-studs incident (the same kind that would put Ecuador down to ten men in last night’s game against France). It’s hard to cheer on a plucky side like Uruguay when they have such a wild card in their pack.
Here’s Ecuador’s captain Antonio Valencia petulantly tearing off his armband on being sent off for pointing his boot in the wrong direction during a tackle. This transgression – an accident, potentially, but the same outcome in this black-and-white disciplinary case – effectively signed their return ticket, even though France were unable to get a single goal past spectacularly lanky goalie Alexander Dominguez, surely the man of the match.
His ability to deflect or absorb French shot after French shot was phenomenal, from Pogba, Benezema, Sissoko, Griezmann, Matuidi, even the cupcake-headed Giroud, the back of whose shirt looks like it might say Girls Aloud if you uncreased it. Where were all these goals we’ve grown used to?, we asked ourselves as we thrilled to Dominguez’s octopoid skill set. But his impermeability was not enough to secure the South Americans a win. Although, to be fair, Switzerland were simultaneously making Ecuador’s life increasingly difficult with each new goal Bayern Munich’s Xherdan Shaqiri concurrently scored against the bottom-bound Honduras in Manaus.
BBC commentator Steve Wilson hid any hint of facetiousness when he pointed out that Ecuador had 30 seconds to score two goals before the end of injury time. Perhaps because it never seemed totally out of the question. (They had a Valencia to spare – relentless striker Enner – and he continually looked like a miracle might rest on the end of his foot.)
I’d pinned hopes on Nigeria, as I love to see African clubs in the knockout, and their high-energy 3-2 defeat to Argentina didn’t stop them qualifying, thanks to Bosnia beating Iran in parallel. They now face France next week, which will not be a walkover, as France are the side who couldn’t score a goal against ten Ecuadorians. With Cameroon (seemingly officially dubbed “the hapless Cameroon”) and Ivory Coast knocked out, and Ghana dependent on beating Portugal in Group G tonight, it may well be down to Nigeria and possibly Group H’s Algeria (if they can beat Russia like they beat South Korea) to carry that mighty continent’s hopes and dreams.
Nigeria certainly gave us our money’s worth against the fancied Argentina, with Ahmed Musa equalising within minutes of Lionel Messi’s opener, the first time in World Cup history that opposing sides have both scored within the first five minutes. That tells you something about the even match. Musa would open the second half with another goal, keeping things interesting. As with Ecuador’s Dominguez, Nigeria’s keeper Vincent Enyeama did them proud, keeping out Di Maria and Messi, most of the time. (And one of those that defied him was from a free kick.)
Messi, with the look of a young Liam Neeson, is an incredible chap. He’s scored four goals in three matches in Brazil. Not to dwell on England, who are long gone, but they lack a Messi, or a Balotelli, or a Neymar, or a Robben/Van Persie. One superhuman striker doesn’t make a team, I know that, but it helps. I’ve heard the word “talisman” a lot this tournament, and that’s the voodoo that counts, I think. Post-Beckham, England haven’t really had that magic.
Rooney is a singular force, with a unique, almost classical look about him and eyes to hypnotise, and the notches on the goalpost and caps to prove his usefulness. Minus the tabloid baggage (I note that the Daily Star has been desperately trying to sell Big Brother with headlines about current female inmates with spurious Rooney tales to tell), I feel sure I’d have greater affection for him if I supported Man United (Fabio Capello said he only played well in Manchester), but in terms of England, a yet-to-heal foot put him off form in his first World Cup in 2006, and he was red-carded in the quarter final. He’s always scored like a demon in the qualifiers (which of course I tend not to watch), but only scored in a World Cup for the first time last week. I was pleased for him. But with Gerrard and Lampard eyeing the garden centre now, England will surely have to rebuild from the ground up, and find a new talisman.
A word about Philip Neville (second from left) – maybe even “the hapless Philip Neville”. The BBC received 445 complaints from Daily Mail readers with nothing better to do about his co-commentary for England’s game against Italy, which was deemed “monotonous” and elicited the usual hoots of armchair derision. Well, being typically behind the curve, I’d wrongly assumed it was Morrissey’s long-lost cousin Danny Murphy who was wingman to Steve Wilson for last night’s Ecuador France match, and it was only at half-time that I was dissuaded of this incorrect assumption. It was a newly invigorated Phil Neville!
Surely it is the greatest compliment that I could pay his ability to learn and improve on the job to say that I didn’t realise it was him. Once the penny had dropped, I could hear him straining to enthuse and modulating his tone. He gave pertinent insight on cramp, too. Good on him, I say. He works in a snap-judgement culture, with Twitter acting as judge, jury, executioner and grave-dancer – and it’s not as if the TV channels don’t constantly promote social media interaction – so to take criticism on the chin and turn it to his advantage shows great character. (He was even funny about it on 5 Live: “I will get better – it was my first live gig and I’m just glad I helped everyone get to sleep back home!”)
Now, back to the action …
This week’s unrepresentative Telly Addict is avowedly World Cup-free. Mainly because nobody seemed to care about my coverage last week of the sporting event that is currently ruling my life and dominating my hours spent in front of the telly. (Not a single comment on it was left BTL.) I’ve cast around for something else worth reviewing and, apart from BBC2’s Tigers About The House, which was full of good-hearted people with admirable intentions making two captive tiger cubs live in a man’s house rather than with their actual tiger mother, it was comedy that came to my rescue: Friday Night Dinner, back for series three of top farce on C4; Alan Davies As Yet Untitled, an affable chat show on Dave; and People Just Do Nothing, a superb, nuanced mockumentary about a mock pirate radio station from people you’ve never heard of that came from YouTube and whose first four episodes are now being piloted on the iPlayer exclusively (before going to old-fashioned, steam-powered BBC3 next month). The link to PJDN is here (it’s up for another two weeks). There’s also a montage from Celebrity Masterchef, which I’ve stopped watching due to format fatigue.
Now, in real life, it’s back to the World Cup …
They don’t just think it’s all over. It is all over. But only if you pledge allegiance to England over allegiance to a great World Cup, which this one truly has been, and the groups aren’t even over yet. (At least, they’re not over for everybody; they’re over for England, and Spain, among other notables.) To quote the multilingual advert that keeps scrolling up like a Reeves & Mortimer gag: Quality Meats.
Now, to England’s early bath. Their defeat at the hands, or feet, of Uruguay was no shame. This talismanic figure Luis Suarez, only “75% fit” according to the pundit chorus, but still dangerous when he’s below par, scored twice, and beautifully. Only the face-painted will have been unable to concede those two goals. (Hey, we’ve all gone back to work or started drinking again a bit earlier than doctor’s orders, or put pressure on a broken bone or a pulled tendon or an ingrowing toenail before sensible, but playing a World Cup match and scoring two goals?) As for the fate of England, which was not strictly sealed until Italy failed to beat Costa Rica on Friday (no kiss for Mario Balotteli, then, but I think he might’ve be thinking of Kate), we’ve been hereabouts before, if not actually booking the seats on the plane home after two matches played.
Look on the bright side. The newly invigorated England squad shows cohesive promise. They have played less well and scraped through before, only to go out in the knockout with even more expectation on their shoulders. Also, Wayne Rooney, so vilified by armchair critics, managers and strategists, scored his first World Cup goal, having set one up in the first match – and from a textbook cross from Glen Johnson. Once Coleen’s re-packed those 18 suitcases, he can go home with his newly-thatched head held high. (I don’t like to read today about Gerrard saying he’s “a broken man” – he shouldn’t be, although anyone forced to wear an armband can never be too far from morbidity.)
The cliche is, they’re playing “for pride” against Costa Rica tomorrow. I’ve also read that, rather than play with long faces, the newer players might actually treat it as an exhibition match for Uncle Roy (whose position is immune from kneejerk calls for impeachment, thanks to a well-timed announcement from Greg Dyke, for two more years, which seems only right and proper – Dyke’s good at PR).
Ah well. I’ve said it before and risked the wrath of the flag-wavers and the confused Crusades-reenactors, but I always find it a relief when England crash and burn. It’s so much easier to enjoy the rest of the tournament when they’re out of it. And all nationalism aside, it’s been a feast of football, especially for those of us who check in with the game every two years! It’s not just about goals, but there have been so many goals.
Switzerland France was a beauty. Of the eight French goals of the World Cup so far, Karim Benzema has been responsible for five of them. But it was Olivier Giroud, with his great iced Shoreditch cupcake of a hairstyle, who headed in what was France’s 100th World Cup goal. As if that wasn’t showbiz enough, Blaise Matuidi scored another one 66 seconds later – more like 13 seconds if you time it from when the game re-started. (More records: Switzerland’s Blerim Dzemaili became the first player to score a goal from a direct free-kick at the 2014 World Cup.) With a final scoreline of 5-2, these teams were really spoiling us.
And so to Germany Ghana, a tie from which neither side came away with any shame, and whose 2-2 score utterly reflects the game that produced it. Many fancy Germany to win, and with Klose nudging himself to joint highest World Cup goal-scorer with none other than Gerd Muller with his first touch (yes, first touch) after being substituted on in the second half, we are gazing in wonder upon a Valhalla of football here. (I liked it when Gary Lineker sort of explained who Gerd Muller was to his younger pundits – “I grew up watching him,” said the 53-year-old, talking for all of we 70s football children.)
“German efficiency” – one of those almost racist generalisations – doesn’t quite cover it, although to watch the ball travel between white shirts from a distance, it could be a computer game. (Ben Smith in his perceptive BBC Sport precis noted the “pinball passing movements” between Ozil, Muller and Gotze.)
All that onboard, let us not forget the battle charge that was Ghana’s performance, with Andre Ayew and Asamoah Gyan scoring within ten minutes of each other. If it turns out that Fifa does have to investigate certain German fans for “blacking up”, it will be up to all of the other enlightened German fans to explain things to them (optionally, to complete the Woody Allen line, “with bricks and baseball bats.”)
I loved the fact that Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan equalled Cameroonian king of the road Roger Milla’s record of five goals, engraving their names as the two highest scoring Africans at World Cups. And I really want Ghana to beat Portugal on Thursday, which, on the strength or otherwise of their draw with USA (which – due to a social imperative commonly known as a rave for mums and dads at the South Bank – I missed), is not out of the question. Gotze, by the way, is the spitting image of the boyfriend of one of my nieces. I hope he wouldn’t be too upset at the comparison. It’s meant as a compliment.
I thank full-time football fans’ patience. But I find watching football sooooo relaxing and stimulating at the same time; the hypnotic rhythms, the dots of colour moving like flies across a sky of green, the thunk of a ball clogged upfield, the swell of the crowd, the undulation of a Mexican Wave, the cracks around the mouth in the face paint of a fan in closeup, midway into a game. If I watched football all the time, maybe I wouldn’t feel this way. But for an intense month every other year, it’s one of my greatest pleasures.
By the time of the knockouts, I’ll be able to name half of each of the teams still in with a shout, by their haircuts if not their playing style. I’ll be able to name the managers and recognise their dugout quirks and sartorial hallmarks. I’ll be able to differentiate the sound of Guy Mowbray and Danny Murphy from Sam Matterface and Andy Townsend (whose contention that a player “got a toe to it” always makes me cheer).
Style points: I wonder what would happen if you disqualified any player with a tattoo “sleeve” tomorrow. Whose team would be the most decimated? The in-progress-illustrated-man effect is admittedly subtler on darker skin, but from a distance the effect is still that of the after effect of a veterinarian who’s had his whole arm up a cow’s bum. And why all the Mohicans this World Cup? I know football is famous for extreme haircuts, and these men’s men have attitude to prove, but there’s surely nothing attractive about the shaved sides and Travis Bickle landing strip bonce? Raheem Sterling just about carries his off, although from the side it looks to be edging closer and closer to a 1980s King’s Road punk’s.
Brazeel, Brazeel … Day 7 of the World Cup; 16 games into the group stages; one cardigan; one headbutt; one smashed studio window; one England goal. But it’s not about England. Alright, it is a bit. If you’re new to my expert football writing, I do not profess – and never have done – to being a football fan in the sense of someone who lives for when Saturday comes and knows who scored what and when against whom and was transferred from where for how much. I do not follow club football, and I have no team (which is how come I was able to “support” Norwich City for a year or so when I was first on 6 Music, out of heartfelt allegiance to Gary, an ardent fan who worked on the show). The closest I get to such a thing is to feel a sort of vague geographical pull deep in my guts for England, and they make me pay for that sentimental weakness. We’ll come back to them presently.
If you are halfway interested in my previous football reports from World Cups, please put “World Cup” into the search engine above right. I re-read a few entries yesterday and was frankly impressed by the level of detail and observation. Was I really so blessed with free time in the summers of 2010 and 2006? Apparently so. Unlike most top football players, I appear to working harder and earning less. Ah well, let’s give this roundup a crack.
I must admit, watching Brazil fail to be Brazil against Mexico last night, and thus seeing a team play for the second time, I started to feel a bit of context forming around my position as a well-meaning fairweather enthusiast running to stand still and then finding out that standing still is pointless and running again. As the group stages unfold, generalisations can be confidently made, themes and tropes harden into a narrative, and hairstyles and habits can be matched with men and their positions in teams.
Due to being in Northampton last week, I was able to experience the first night – ie. the interminable interpretative dance-based opening ceremony and speculative heel-kicking in advance of the tournament’s first nightmarishly late kickoff – at my sister’s house with three card-carrying male football fans: my brother-in-law Graham and two of their boys, Ben and William, both glued to iPads throughout, naturally. (Although this enabled Ben to find out if “Hulk”, “Fred” and “Oscar” were the actual names of the Brazilian players so listed – no, yes and yes.) Due to school and work in the morning, staying up until the final whistle was tricky, so I nipped home at half-time and continued watching at Mum and Dad’s, on my own. Beers were taken, as is traditional. I fear for my waistline over the next month. Last World Cup, I had to foreswear the hops and move to chilled tapwater, mid-tournament.
Once it eventually kicked off, Brazil Croatia was entertaining enough. With a welcome early-ish Brazilian goal – albeit on behalf of Croatia – the game and World Cup at least broke their duck at 11 minutes. Defender Marcelo – and not blameless, brilliantly-named keeper Julio Cesar – will have to live with the unwelcome accolade: Brazil’s first ever World Cup own goal. Although what his OG meant ultimately was that Brazil basically played themselves to 3-1. Incidentally, Marcelo is one of an alarming number of players with a “sleeve” tattoo. I respect them but don’t like them. And I won’t have to wake up to one when I’m 70 and they will.
Poster boy Neymar (who my Guardian World Cup Guide tells me plays for Barcelona, a city being homogenised by the holiday cruise ship trade, so I read elsewhere in the Guardian) scored two for his own team, once in each half, the first from 25 yards, the second from the penalty spot after “Fred” was fouled (sorry, Fred was “fouled”). I have little context beyond their World Cup performance in 2010 to help place their continued international brilliance, but I have learned that Neymar keeps scoring for them. (I have major trouble remembering previous World Cups and Euros. I can just about recall which countries they took place in; this is what happens when you take your eye off the ball for two-year stretches.)
I missed Chile beat Australia and Mexico beat Cameroon (I usually enjoy watching the African sides play, so I’ll remedy this), but the big goal haul came with Spain Netherlands, a decisive 5-1 dismantling of a once formidable team now in the doldrums. You could tell a lot had changed since I last saw Spain reign: when Torres was brought on in the last act, the BBC commentator wondered aloud why coach del Bosque had even bothered playing him. How the mighty are fallen, even when they’ve moved on from their Alice-band period. (Spain have not conceded five goals in a World Cup since 1950, stat fans.) Good to see some other old faces: non-too-shabby Xabi Alonso, who took the misleading penalty for Spain at the top of the shop; Holland’s statuesque Arjen Robben, who made it five at the other end; Robin van Persie, or RVP, who now seems now to be carrying the whole team on his shoulders, like Balotelli and Italy, or Messi and Argentina, or … cough … Rooney and England? (As we speak there is talk that Roy Hodgson might not even start Rooney against Uruguay as the owlish multilinguist seems to be all about the young players and I rather applaud him for that.)
It might be remembered in all the easy Rooney-bashing that he set up England’s only goal of the tournament. England’s first game against Italy (get the toughest of their group out of the way first) was, initially, a revelation. Revelations are all relative, but “our boys” – and some of them are boys – seemed to be playing as a unit, pushing forward, creating chances, passing to each other. If you followed England during the friendlies here and in unfriendly Miami, you’ll already have a handle on their current form, but I didn’t. (Adrian Chiles made a remark last night about the general disdain for “soccer” among the Floridian camera operators he spoke to, who can’t get to grips with all the amateur-dramatic rolling around in pain involved in the game – they probably can’t understand why we don’t wear armour either, or split the matches up into tiny chunks to accommodate the advertisers.) I’m excited not to know so many of the England squad: Phil Jones? Luke Shaw? Raheem Sterling? Adam Lallana? Ross Barkley? Daniel Sturridge? I know who Sturridge is now, of course. His cool equaliser at 37 minutes, so soon after Marchisio’s goal for Italy, acted as a symbol for our raised hopes and dampened fears. I, for one, approached the second half with optimism, which duly evaporated like a line of that squirty cream the refs now carry on their utility belts. So we’re left with England in third place in Group D and Costa Rica first. It’s not over ’till it’s over, of course, but it’s started, hasn’t it?
Mexico were “accomplished” against Brazeel last night, according to Jonathan Pearce (a man still confused by the goal-line technology: “NO GOAL!”). Free-flowing football was expected from Brazil; in actual fact, it was flowing-free. As I say, after witnessing two below-par Brazilian matches, I can now say with confidence that the team could provide a serviceable Kajagoogoo tribute act, or at least two Sideshow Bob lookalikes, should the bottom fall out of their football careers. I don’t know if he actually was the man of the match, but the man of the match was Guillermo Ochoa, the Mexican keeper, who’s definitely a “keeper”. Every time a Brazilian goal looked likely, there he was, with his supermop of hair bouncing behind his headband, in front of the ball: fists, chest, stomach, whichever part of him was nearest, as as graceless as it may have looked. (As Mark Lawrenson wryly commented, “You get no marks for artistic impression.”) It was enjoyable to see Fred replaced by Jo, who has even less letters in his full name.
What Brazil need to do is bottle the unity and spirit that was actually free-flowing during the singing of their massive national anthem, from the tortuously long intro to the a capella final verse. Tremendous. Accomplished. Total anthem singing.
Back in London, as I missed the humidity, litter, scaffolding, oligarchs, controlled parking and housing bubble. They don’t even have an Aldi here! It’s Monday. A new week of fiddling while Rome burns, if fiddling is a metaphor for doing little bits of jobs rather than anything meaningful on a large-scale ongoing commission, and Rome is a metaphor for my career.
With Sitcom A in post-BBC3 limbo and Drama A in a holding pattern while a potential broadcaster gets round to reading the 32-page, 17,000-word synopsis (come on, hurry up!), my creative juices are being diverted into the channel marked “NEW IDEAS”. Although what we call in the trade “small jobs” overlapped and expanded to fill my three full days in glorious, sun-dappled, Northamptonian exile (a TV review for the Guardian Guide’s Other Side page which shouldn’t have taken that long but I still feel as if I’m on probation in the actual paper; my Telly Addict script plus clips; some time-consuming editing work which already feels as if it’s taken three times as much time as I charged for), I am now dedicating that key bumper period between being awake and falling asleep to formulating at least three new sitcom pitches.
The World Cup is on. (The football one.) Because of the four- and five-hour time difference between here and Brazeel – to use the official pronunciation from ITV’s lilting credits sequence – some games kick off at 11 o’clock. At night. I’m usually tucked up in bed by then, not gearing up for 90 minutes of silky footballing action, sometimes involving a team that happens to share my nationality which has a Pavlovian effect on my general interest. England supplied their traditional dose of expectation and disappointment on Saturday night and into Sunday morning. I managed not to drink anything until 10pm, which was restraint in excelsis, but I was still imbibing at 1am, which is not my usual style unless at a wedding.
This is me at the Guardian yesterday afternoon, fighting my way through the Lego (they’re doing their now-traditional Lego reenactments of the World Cup highlights, which are always a joy), to enact this week’s Telly Addict (coming imminently, watch this space) which includes a review of the opening ceremony and a little comment on the difference between the ITV and BBC presentation. I won’t be reviewing any games for the Guardian, and although somehow, in previous years, I’ve found time to post regular bulletins from World Cups and Euro Championships on this blog (representative samples: World Cup 2010, Euro 2012), I don’t see that luxury happening this tournament.
It’s not that I don’t have anything to say (Pogba’s cake-style haircut, Andy Townsend’s continued use of the phrase, “got a toe to it”), it’s just that the best pithy commentary comes from armchair experts on Twitter, and my brain isn’t big enough to have my phone on during televised matches. The TV picture, the phenomenal Guardian World Cup Guide, conversation: that’s quite enough stimulus for me. I admire you if you can cope with all that plus social media and stay sociable in the room.
I’ve enjoyed the high-scoring matches I’ve seen so far, by the way. Own goals, yellow cards, famous players being rubbish, headbutts, physio breaks his own ankle … it’s not been without incident, has it? I can’t believe I had to choose between it and the Game Of Thrones season finale. Culture can be so cruel.
I may well make this radiant, sanguine face while producer Tom has left the studio to do something important and to tread Lego into the carpet. There’s a serious insurgency afoot in Iraq, and as if the imminent destabilisation of the Middle East and a faction too horrible for al-Qaeda committing something we loftily call “war crimes” wasn’t depressing enough, it means Tony Blair is on my television and in my newspaper. Fuck off! Admit defeat! Go and live in Donald Rumsfeld’s house if you like it so much!
Stop press: managed one World Cup game – the game of one half: Germany Portugal – and the finale of Game Of Thrones. The latter lacked a character as vicious, malevolent and ruthless as Pepe. And it went to penalties. [Throw in further Game Of Thrones/football allusions here]