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.

WCGerGha1I 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, BrazeelDay 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.

If Brazil and Spain can cock up on the world stage, England are in good company.

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.




Early on in this World Cup, while observing the fantastic local flags and banners hung over the balconies by far-flung fans at one of the stadiums, I saw two next to each other that seemed almost poetic, one in Gothic lettering, white on black, the other in the more traditional gaffer-tape style. They read: POTSDAM, PENGE. I loved the alliteration, and the exotic nature of both locales, each as faraway and foreign as the other. One the capital city of Brandenberg, with eerie echoes of the beginning of the Third Reich and the end of the war; the other a suburb of Bromley best known as the site of Crystal Palace Park and the TV transmitter. I don’t know if the fans who unfurled their local blankets that day were at the Free State Stadium yesterday in Bloemfontein, but I like to think they were.

So, England went out in a blaze of glory – not their own, but Germany’s, who could have pasted them even more comprehensively had David James not been almost uniquely on-message. I am English. I was born here. Not in Penge, but in Northampton, virtually the middle of England. Naturally, I feel a certain geographical affinity to the England team, and wish them well, every time. But you would not choose to follow them if you had the pick of the world’s teams, would you? I mean, truthfully? They are too often less than the sum of their parts. Imagined feuds with another European team do not help. The English fans have been world class. If their singing and support couldn’t get England through yesterday, nothing could. And we heard how plenty of them had had to trek miles to Bloemfontein to be there – possibly across open terrain where three lions might have eaten them – and show that unfailing support: the ones dressed as knights, the ones dressed as RAF fighter pilots … all doomed to be the ones clutching their heads, the traditional pose of the England football fan.

No point in me dissecting England’s performance, not from my position of well-meaning ignorance, but I picked up that Rooney never really caught fire, and that our defence was, once again, loose, and that the Germans outclassed our “Golden Generation” (not a phrase that Frank Lampard favours) with their just-over-21s. The final score, 4-1, was only a shadow of what it might have been, had David James not played so well. The sight of him swearing at his defenders from the goal line with that huge, toothy mouth of his will be the lasting image of England’s World Cup 2010.

The big talking point to come out of this, and yesterday evening’s Mexico Argentina game – which Argentina comfortably won, powered by Maradona bear hugs – is of technology, which Fifa seem unwilling to introduce into the grey area of whether goals have gone in or not, and whether a man was offside or not. The problem is not that the officials don’t always have the best view of whether a ball has gone over a line, or whether a man has gone offside, but that once they have made their call, they are not permitted to reverse it based upon what is commonly known in detective shows as “evidence.” We at home can see immediately whether Lampard’s goal was a goal or not, but the ref and his linesmen cannot. (Unless, of course, they show the replay on the big telly screen at the ground, which they did in the case of the offside Argentinian goalscorer Tevez. Not sure whether this is supposed to happen. It certainly democratises the in/out, offside/onside decision-making process, allowing 50,000 fans to officiate!) From what I can gather, EVERYBODY WHO WORKS IN FOOTBALL, EVEN FORMER SCEPTIC ALAN HANSEN now favours goal-line technology being introduced, except Sepp Blatter. Why? (Some of you will probably know better than me.)

Let us briefly praise Matthew Upson, who pulled one back for England when they were 2-0 down, using mostly his face (although he had earlier been part of the clay-footed defence that had let through Klose for the first German goal), and Frank Lampard for scoring the equaliser that never was, moments later. Apologists will forever claim that the disallowed second goal would have changed the course of the game (Rio Ferdinand said so in today’s calm and collected Sun – front page: YOU HAVE LET YOUR COUNTRY DOWN), but when you lose 4-1 – and might just as conceivably have lost 6-1 or 7-1 – it’s not about one goal, it’s about more than one goal. If anything, England showed most spark when they were 2-0 down, and never recovered that spark.

I wanted England to win, but only out of a random accident of birth and growing familiarity with the players and where they’re from and what they are supposed to be good at doing, and it was a shame that they lost instead. But I was not weeping into my beer. The worst thing that happened was that I stopped being interested in drinking beer. Which may have been because I had drunk too much of it in the afternoon. That, I guess, is England’s fault, as I had used their brief window of hope against Slovenia to instill in me the notion that this was a potential big moment – one worth breaking out the beer for. It wasn’t. It was a big moment for Germany, who look a strong side with their young men. And a big moment for the pro-technology lobby.

I found a surprising amount of support on Twitter last night when I suggested that I was sort of relieved that England were out and I could relax and just enjoy the rest of the world-class games. I do think this. It makes far more sense to follow your local team, or a team you grew up with, than the national side. Mind you, the more I see Fabio Capello speak, the more I wonder how the England players can ever really connect with him, or know what he actually wants. He can speak better English than I can speak Italian, but I am not paid £6million a year and I don’t work in Italy in a job that is all about communication.

On a more positive note, has anybody else found themselves mesmerised by the way the black tablets showing the score and the minutes within the BBC’s on-screen graphic seem to cast a constantly but slow moving reflection?


“Fucking superb,” as David James mouthed after England kept another Slovenian attack out of their goal in today’s decisive World Cup game for our boys. Fabio Capello was wise today. Not only did he change the “tried and trusted” 4-4-2 formation (as Gary Lineker described it, although “tried and untrusted” might have been more accurate), to a sort of 4-1-2-1-2 with a diamond in the middle of it, but he also replaced the entire team we’d seen fail to beat the USA and Algeria with some much better lookalikes. The BBC commentator, Guy Mobray, said, “Rooney comes alive when Gerrard’s got the ball,” and he was not wrong. The Rooney that we have come to rely on – and rely on too much – was one touch away from scoring on more than one occasion this afternoon. But it was Defoe, who Capello – always a very wise coach, I’ve thought (aside: no I haven’t, I thought he was shit and secretive, just like everybody else) – placed upfront and who, despite his squeaky voice, scored all of England’s goals ie. one. Gabby Logan called it a “nervy” match, but aren’t they all? England had to win this. And they did. And, unfortunately for the dirty Slovenia, USA won in Pretoria, simultaneously, so they’re out. Rooney was “agonisingly close” to scoring (Gabby again), but was taken off before the end, because he’s got a bad ankle, apparently, and has to be looked after. Still, at least he’s actually going to be playing another game.

I managed to get my work done at Radio Times in record time, by about 2.10, so I raced home to watch the England match. I actually watched it about 30 minute behind real time, but in my house, it was live. It was fun to try and get home before kick-off, as I was travelling on the Tube and overground with lots of other people doing the same thing. I hope they all made it to the pubs or living rooms they were heading for. It’s cool to get caught up in World Cup fever. By the way, sorry to add to the latest cacophony, but wasn’t it nice to hear fans singing and banging drums in Port Elizabeth, rather than just the vuvuzelas? Do you know what? It sounded like a football match.

Fabio Capello has got a massive mouth. If the ball ever hit him in the face, it would disappear. I think he looks like Heston Blumenthal with a wig on.

Commiserations, of course, to South Africa, who went out after a valiant display against a rejvenated France, despite beating them 2-1, yesterday. Of all host nations, surely they have been the most loved. We even let them get away with the plastic horns. I would say that they’re not singing any more, but they probably are, somewhere. I loved seeing the team entering the ground, singing. Imagine if the other teams did that. It led them to victory, but defeat.

Good heavens, I am currently watching Donovan, of the victorious USA, being interviewed on the BBC, post-match, by an American reporter, who asked, “What emotions are currently coursing through your veins?” Donovan said he’s been on an amazing “journey”. Give it a rest. At least you wouldn’t get our tongue-tied players saying that. They’re too busy saying it’s “the end of the day.”

It’s fascinating to see how much disarray both France, out, and England, through, found themselves in, and in such an international spotlight. Surely the most shameful sight of the World Cup so far has been Domenech, the French coach, refusing to shake hands with Carlos Alberto Parreira, the South African coach, after France’s last game. This was shocking. The footage is worth looking at: Parreria approaches him and offers his hand, and Domenech pulls his hand away, puts it to his face, points at the pitch, and presumably says something about how cross he was that one of his players was sent off. This is not good enough. I daresay he’s already been sacked. Thierry Henry has apparently been summoned to explain to Mr Sarkozy why the French team fell apart. At least Gerrard won’t have to be summoned by our two prime ministers. Yet.

I obviously don’t really know who Milner is, but I know he was the man of today’s match.


People seem to be saying that it’s an anything-can-happen World Cup, which has to be a good thing. The old certainties do not always apply. Apart from, sadly, Group E now, where Holland are definitely through, and the plucky, re-energised Cameroon (a favourite of mine from previous tournaments, I guess since 1990 when they reached the quarter finals) the first to go home. France, Italy, Spain, even Germany are not yet secure in their groups, which is nailbiting for their fans – hey, join the club – and potentially more entertaining for the rest of us. I can’t be out on a limb in stating that yesterday’s Cameroon Denmark game was the highlight of the tournament so far. What a treat to see two teams attacking each other so passionately, and for the full 90 minutes – and only four yellow cards between the lot of them, which may simply reflect well upon the ref.

Cameroon, who’d steamed ahead in the first ten minutes thanks to the supernatural – and unmarked – Eto’o and some “Billy Smart’s manual” defending from the Danes according to Peter Drury, were surely everyone’s favourites by half-time. (Except for all those middle aged men with moustaches dressed as red Vikings, of course.) You couldn’t argue with Denmark’s two goals: the first at close range from Bendtner from an amazing midfield pass that Gareth Southgate confirmed as having come 61 yards from Simon Kjaer; the second from a man called Rommendahl, which was one of the mostly neatly slotted goals we’ve seen so far. But I for one never gave up on the Cameroonians. Unfortunately, they couldn’t pull a second goal back. I hope the other African nations don’t go out. South Africa look to be in trouble, Nigeria have yet to score a point, Algeria are on the bottom … Ghana are Africa’s best hope, although let’s not write off Ivory Coast just yet. (Looking forward to seeing them take on Brazil this very evening.)

Well, having mentioned Algeria, I guess we must acknowledge England’s pathetic failure to beat them on Friday. It’s been analysed to death in the media: Wayne Rooney’s ungracious remarks about the booing fans, for which in the apology culture of the day, he had to officially say sorry for (or at least the FA did on his behalf); the players’ fear of failure, which seems ironically to be causing the team to collectively fail; Fabio Capello’s dogged faith in the 4-4-2 formation and his potentially damaging decision to dump Robert Green one game in, when, in fact, there was no way he was going to make that kind of mistake ever again … it’s the usual round of recrimination and self-loathing. I allow myself to forget how frustrating it is following England. We all do. I don’t want them to go out, but they don’t deserve to stay in yet. I actually think booing your team is pointless and bad-tempered. Sure, some of the fans have spent a fortune getting out to South Africa and taken time off work, but there are never any guarantees, are there? It’s like booing the weather for not being sunny enough when you’re on holiday. Indeed, it’s like doing that when it wasn’t sunny enough last time you went. Or the time before. Anyway, I’m told it’s perfectly understandable for the fans to boo. So be it. (You might argue that the weather isn’t paid as much as the England players.)

While searching for the source of the Billy Smart’s line above (I think it was Andy Townshend who called the same Danish defenders the Keystone Cops – cue: young people scratching their heads at all these arcane references), I found this really witty and learned match report by a man called Mark Murphy on a blog called Twohundredpercent. I’m sure it’s one of hundreds of reports out there on football blogs, but it’s the first one I found, and I liked it. So here’s a link. I think their style.

Incidentally, are we up for Colin Murray, who seems to have quietly graduated, via the darts, to the BBC’s top table in Cape Town (and to Adrian Chiles’ chair on MOTD2, which as you will know, I do not watch)? I have seen him in action first hand on Five Live, and I’ve always liked his style – I also think it’s very smart to move diagonally from music to sport, if both are your passions.

Now, an afternoon beer, I think, in the spirit of the thing.