OK, so the World Cup has passed that quality threshold now. Every game is important. Every game is good. Every game is wheat versus wheat. None of them have England in. Last night’s Ghana versus Uruguay was easily one of the matches of the tournament, in terms of sheer drama. I hate it when a game goes to penalties, but this one arrived at that unpleasant point in the most unexpected way possible. (For me anyway. You football fans probably see matches all the time that end at 1-1, move into extra time and are decided by a penalty in the dying minute after one of the opposing team’s star players handballs a goal out from the goalmouth and gets sent off, only for the team with the advantage, and who had played the best, to muff that penalty off the crossbar, sending the game into an actual penalty shoot-out.)

Like everybody else not from South America – surely! – I was behind Ghana to get through to the last four and the semi finals. Africa’s great white hope (now there’s a phrase that doesn’t translate), they had the entire home continent behind them, and ITV’s on-the-spot reporter, Ned Boulting, did a nice job of capturing the atmosphere in Accra, even though he insisted on putting his arms around two Ghanaian fans on the back of a flat-bed truck at half-time, which seemed forcefully matey. (I expect you’ll all tell me that you hate Ned Boulting now – this is the usual drill when I say I like somebody, especially one on ITV – but I have found him mostly unpatronising and at least hardworking.) Although Uruguay have more form, Ghana had more support, and when they went one-up just before half-time, thanks to a long shot from Muntari, it was a magical moment of anything-could-happen. And of course, anything did. Forlan, the most handsome player in Uruguay, equalised soon into the second half, but Ghana had way more chances, each of which they muffed. They simply couldn’t convert the chances into numbers, which was such a tragedy, as they had fire in their bellies and had been up until 1am at a Sun City casino, as Clive Tydlesley kept on reminding us. (I expect I’m not allowed to like Clive Tyledesley either, but I do, not least because he seems to be uniquely old school among commentators in describing a corner as a “corner kick,” every time. Jumpers for goalposts, indeed.)

When Asamoah Gyan crossbarred the penalty that lost Ghana the World Cup he became this tournament’s Gareth Southgate, something Adrian Chiles was keen to point out when he turned to Gareth Southgate back at the coffee table. Southgate had a glint of empathy in his eye. Am I allowed to like him? I don’t really like his geography teacher’s tank top, but I sort of admire him for sticking to his own style. Marcel Desailly, born in Accra, and a very fair but passionate supporter of his team throughout, was in bits. He was still quick to nobly congratulate the South American winners, even though Suarez had attempted to become this tournament’s Maradona.

The penalty shoot-out was typically horrible to witness. I didn’t much like the Uruguayan keeper Muslera’s psychological tactic of saying “Come on! Impress me!” with his arm gestures. He deserved to let them all in. He only let one in, which, in the irony of all ironies, the bold and brave Gyan had taken, as if to remove the bad juju. (Oh, I thought Muslera was a bit of a prick when he congratulated his own crossbar for keeping Gyan’s previous penalty out. These Catholics! They’ll bless anything.)

So, tears at bedtime for Gyan (he seems inconsolable, as well he might) and, well, the whole of Africa. It would be melodramatic and convenient to say that the vuvuzelas fell silent for the first time, but they didn’t. Richard Kingson, Ghana’s keeper, who apparently plays for Equatorial Wigan, did a fine job, as did they all. And he had to play in a top that looked as if it was off the shoulder.

Onwards and upwards then. (Ghana Uruguay my first World Cup match without beer or cider or rose accompaniment. Didn’t need it.)


16 thoughts on “Essay7

  1. Ned Boulting is a lovely chap and an intelligent, humorous reporter. He normally does the Tour de France (which starts TODAY! Give it a go, Andrew. Get behind Bradley Wiggins. You won’t regret it.). I’m pleased to see Ned ‘promoted’ to the footie, but he’ll be a loss to the C4 Cycling team.

    And last night’s match certainly provided some poetry (of the tragic, epic kind) in what has been a fairly unpoetic tournament.

  2. You’re allowed to like anyone you want to like, Andrew. Apart from Diego Forlan, who is clearly a glue-sniffer.

    So wanted Ghana to win and it seems so unfair that a handball on the line results in a penalty which there’s every chance might be missed. But that’s the game, I suppose, but I’ll find it hard to cheer on Uruguay from here.

    High Saturday night drama – even Mrs Swineshead had plenty to say about the last few minutes.

    How cheeky was the winning penalty in the shoot out? He knocked it in like he was chipping a five-year old. The gentlest of touches from a brute of a man.

    I’d missed your Essays, what with being somewhat busy. Now I’m going to have to go back and read them all. Great stuff.

  3. I haven’t checked on the Internet but I think Ghana scored two of the four shoot-out penalties that they took, and you or I could have saved the other two, I’m afraid.

    I notice also a second reference in these Essays to Diego Forlan being a handsome chap, which he clearly is. Grown up since his time in Manchester, big and strong.

    I like the look of this Gyan chap, too, ironically my head being turned by the two penalties he took in earlier rounds, as well as that fine goal against the USA. Despite ending unhappily, I think he will emerge as having had a “good” Word Cup, and I wish him and his team mates a jolly future.

  4. I found it really annoying that ITV assumed everyone wanted Ghana to win. I certainly didn’t. Uruguay have been my outside bet from the start, and it’s just as romantic a notion for them to be in the semi-finals – tiny population of 3.5M, smaller than Ireland, deeply unfashionable… It’s fantastic they’ve done so well. Ghana have over 20M or so people to pick from. The little guy won!

    • Fair enough, James, but my support of Ghana – for what it’s worth – was rooted in the fact that they were Africa’s last hope in the tournament. Any “romance” was based on them being one of the home sides at the first World Cup held in Africa. (Loads have been held in South America!) I didn’t expect them to win it! They certainly weren’t my “bet”, outside or otherwise; I just fancied them over Uruguay. It’s all perfectly innocent.

  5. Sorry! No, I didn’t mean to criticise your, or anyone’s, support of Ghana! It was just ITV insistence’s that everyone must definitely be behind them that was annoying.

  6. I may be wrong about this, but I am sure I heard it reported on the radio that the Uruguay player who kept out the goal with his hand was fairly chuffed with himself afterwards, claiming he was the real Hand Of God. For me this adds to the already sour taste this has left.

    A shame for Ghana. But as soon as the shootout came round I knew there time was up.

    As for the rest of the tournament I would like to see Germany win. A young side with a team plan who have the intelligence to make it work.

  7. Quick question Andrew.

    From your ‘occasional football watcher’ point of view does the diving and cheating put you off at all or do you take it as part of the game?

    Nothing annoys me more when a commentator calls cheating “clever play” rather than just calling it cheating.

    • As an occasional football watcher, I’d like to know if this much fouling and diving and play-acting goes on in league football? I find it irksome. And I wouldn’t like to be a referee, having to untangle it all, on the spot. It’s easy for us seeing it in HD slow-motion, when a player is caught on his ankle and goes down clutching his face.

      • I think it happens a lot at the higher end of the game where the number of people watching the game can be in the millions. Players know referees are cautious when it comes to sending players off as it can make a game one sided and the viewers and tv companies don’t want that.

        I see it as a game within a game now. The referees cannot see everything and so players push this as far as they can. Retrospective punishment concerning cheating is non existant or at least very rare as far as I know. Hence if they get away with it at the time then there is no punishment to put you off trying again. Cheating could be solved quite easily I think using video reviews after the game and harsh punishments but it will never happen.

        I watch hardly any football now on TV. I used to be a keen viewer and played for about 15 years but I cannot get excited about it now. It seems to be 70% football, 30% brinkmanship with the referee.

        Keep up the good work. I have enjoyed your WC essays.

  8. “When Asamoah Gyan crossbarred the penalty…”

    This bit reminds me of a US commentator who said earlier in the tournament: “Donovan roofs a power shot!” A while ago I heard another American commentator talking of a player hitting “the pipe” (he meant post).

    All of these remarks stand out because they exist in a place outside of the long-established football lexicon and yet they’re used in a manner which suggests that they’re absolutely part of the bedrock. I reckon that your World Cup pieces would be much more entertaining if you recorded your observations in a style that is not at all influenced by the conventions of football media (the broadcast variety in particular).

    Keep ’em coming.

  9. I reckon Uraguay were fortunate to go first in the penalties, as they were in the last round against Japan. The pressure is usually greater on the team going second because they’re usually playing catch-up and end up having to score to survive. It would be fairer if the penalty-taking order went, A, B, B, A, A, B, B, A… Could catch on. Stuart Maconie was tweeting in support of Uraguay, home of cafes and poets in linen suits – beats that Macdonalds ft Graham Taylor ad at least. Suarez’s glee was hateful though. Football needs to remember that a passion for fairness is as common as a passion for winning and the thing that is firing me up more than anything else is that a player people want to see, this time Thomas Muller, is denied a place in the semi-final because of two yellow cards from separate matches, one for a debatable handball, while a load of theatrical cheats will be playing. That rule has been a predictable source of unfairness since before the last World Cup. The best thing about Gareth Southgate’s presence on itv is how well he and Andy Townsend get on, personality-wise they’re a perfect couple, perhaps they should manage England. No, don’t like that off-the-shoulder design, a few kits have had that recently and it looks awkward. Hasn’t been all that stylish kit-wise – could Spain’s current shades of red and blue clash any more? Slovenia’s shirts and Cameroon’s colours probably win for me. Sorry, essay of a comment.

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