Manager Gone, Now for the Programme…

Well, we wake up to the sound of church bells, rain bouncing off the window cill and the news that Mark Robins has gone. It is being spun by the Club as an amicable parting, and that, “The Club would like to place on record their gratitude…” Etc etc blah blah blah. He was sacked, they know it, we know it, he knows it. I’m not puffed up and vain enough to suppose that my call for his head last night had even the slightest scintilla of effect in getting Robins the bullet, but just in case…

Who in the wild, wild world of sport came up with the idea of passing off a free pullout from the Examiner as a two quid piece of merch? The Club has it that this is as a result of a fans’ forum. Trouble is, no-one has any idea who these fans are. Is it the view of the fans, or the interpretation of what has been said? Indulge me a short mo in a possible scenario…

Fans: “The bloody programme’s too expensive, £3 – you’re  ‘avin’ a bleedin’ laugh.”

Club: “Hmmm, something with a lower cost base, but with larger strategic volumes, leveraging an overall uplift on the margins.”

Fans: “There’s more adverts than there is articles, I can read this stuff in the Examiner.”

Club: “Yes, a larger viewed area would make the insertion of sponsored copy less obvious vis-a-vis the ratio of monetised to non monetised display. And what was that last bit, the Examiner? Hold on a minute, we might be onto something here…”

Fans: “Yes the programme is rubbish, nothing in it that you can’t see elsewhere, you might as well chuck it for all it’s worth”

Club: “Chuck away…yes, that’s it. A new business model, based on a disposable, large format publication on newsprint media, pitched at a lower price break, say GBP2?”

Fans: “You mean like a free Examiner pullout, but charge two quid for it?”

Club: “No little fellow, you don’t understand the world of business. On your way now, feel free to take a handful of biscuits on your way out. Dean, I think I have an idea…”

And so it came to pass. It might have happened that way, it almost certainly didn’t, but you recognise a grain of truth don’t you? I think that, after the initial curiosity and the purchase of an example to give it the benefit of the doubt, ‘programme’ sales (or lack of) will signal a change of direction. Make it soon, eh?

A New Season, the Same Old Crap

Depending whether you’re a glass half full or a glass half empty man, there were two ways to look at the start of the new season.  My own feeling was that it would be a struggle to stay up once again. I hoped that today’s match would tell me that I hadn’t a clue what I was talking about and that any latent pessimism would be swept away by a superlative performance. Not to be.

From the ongoing saga of Clayton, to the perpetual non-appearance of Vaughan, via the release of a shed load of players replaced by… well who? Peltier? Another of Deano’s romantic returns, along Stead lines? A kid from Liverpool that may well turn out to be a good signing for all I know, but we’re slapping ourselves on the back for  the grand capture of a lad we know nothing about. Good for us, and I’m sure I’ll be proved right royally wrong, but this line about how we’ve made a terrific coup and how all the opposition fans say how disappointed they are that the player has left etc. etc. I seem to recall the same spiel about both Gobern and Scannell. And Woods and Wallace. Oh, I nearly forgot, we have a loanee and have signed a ‘keeper at the end of his career. Spiffing.

It’s not so much the players he has brought in as the players he hasn’t. The gaps in the team were glaringly obvious  last season. Even a mole wearing sunglasses and immersed in tar would have been able to see the piercingly obvious gaps in our side: 1) Centre forward. No sign beyond the blind hope that Vaughan will be fit for every match or that Ward or Scannell will suddenly become the centre forwards that they so obviously aren’t. oh, and he appears to have fallen out with Paterson again. 2) Centre half. Surely we can’t be suggesting that Peltier is the answer here? In an emergency perhaps, but not Plan A! 3) A hard man in midfield. The kid from Liverpool may well turn out to be dynamite, but we’re losing our best player as well into the bargain.

It’s been obvious that Clayton would be on his way from the moment that he was voted player of the year. What is it about the perverse club that we are that almost EVERY player that has EVER been voted POTY has NEVER played for us again? Can we question the reasoning that he must be allowed to go – he’s out of contract at the end of the season and we’ll get nothing for him in a year’s time, but is relegation form really a price worth paying for a £1.5m return? Even if we determine that letting him go is the right decision, surely a replacement should have been in place and if it wasn’t, why was Clayton not in the squad today? The bullshit reasoning that he was talking to a prospective club so wasn’t available for the match build up was as much a crock of shit as the ‘dead leg’ that kept him out of recent matches. If he wasn’t available for the club he is contracted to and who pays his wages, then surely he is in breach and shouldn’t be paid? That’s the way it works in the real world.

The writing was on the wall with the team sheet. How many players is it possible to play out of position in any one team? Ward is not a striker, even his mum will tell you that, but Robins tells him that he is. Sure, he can cut in from wide and unleash a mean left footer to the net now and again, but striker he ain’t. A back line of Lynch, Peltier and Crooks. Do I even need to point out the bleeding obvious here. Peltier is an ok right back, decent in midfield now and again and in an emergency – a very dire emergency where a player is sent off/is injured and there is no substitute – he might fill in at centre half, but not as a first choice! Crooks, I feel sorry for the lad – he isn’t a centre half either. The number of players that have had their prospects ruined by being played in the wrong position early in their careers and never recovering from the ire of the crowd is incalculable.

That aside, the team had no shape, no purpose and no desire. That’s not to take anything away from Bournemouth, who finished last season well and have spent wisely over the summer. They were as strong, well drilled and organised as we were pathetic. We conceded within seconds for what – I am pretty sure – was the first goal of the day in the Championship. You could argue that it was blatantly offside and that the linesman on the Kilner Bank side spent most of the day on the planet Zog, but we were undone either way. The second goal, it is said, was as a result of a push on the defender, but soft either way round. We didn’t look like scoring in a month of Sundays, so reaching half time without conceding further could be viewed as something of as a success. To concede two more in the second half shouldn’t, therefore, come as too much of a surprise. It should really have been five, Smithies pressed the self destruct button (yet again!) by bringing a player down, but got himself partially off the hook by saving the resultant penalty.

I am not one to call for the head of the manager, especially on Day 1 of the season, but I’m afraid my patience has run out. It’s going to be a long season, not I suggest, for Mark Robins.

saltire and union flags

Don’t Do It Scotland!

I wasn’t too happy that the Scots got their own parliament and the Welsh and Northern Irish got their own assemblies. Why? Because we didn’t get a similar institution to represent the interests of the North of England.

Us Northerners, primarily Yorkshire and Lancashire upwards – though the Midlands could perhaps have a referendum to decide which way they roll, were left stranded in our opposition to the self-serving policies of a large rump of right leaning Southern Softies when the opposition was scattered to the four corners of the Union.

This is why I am fundamentally opposed to Scotland voting ‘Yes’ for independence. Let’s get the cards on the table straight away, this is a mercenary viewpoint. The fact is that if Scotland leaves the Union, we in the North will be cast into the eternal darkness of a perpetual Tory government! Take away the large left leaning Scottish vote in the Westminster parliament and we Northern cave dwellers will be simply carried along on a wave of right leaning, knee jerk, Mailist and Telegraphic sympathies.

Now, although this could be construed as the selfish viewpoint of a Northern Monkey, I would also argue that it could be potentially damaging for Scotland. With the prospect of rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth, blue rinse warriors dictating the policies of the North for time immemorial, we are likely to look quite favourably at Scotland as a destination of domicility. Faced with the lure of free prescriptions, free university education and a most favourable national drink (plus we still get the BBC!), I would forecast a frenzied rush for the border. I even have a namesake Scottish football team!

Quite how the sudden influx of every Tom, Dick and Cyril from Sheffield to Berwick suddenly appearing on the doorstep would pan out is a catastrophic vision too packed-in-like-sardines to contemplate. At a stroke, this would instantly drain any financial benefit associated with getting your hands on what’s left of North Sea oil and gas. You plainly haven’t thought this through Scotland!

Vote ‘No’ to independence and allow us Northerners to remain where we belong, in God’s own country of the North of England. Although, a Northern Republic with Taylor’s Landlord free running like water and Yorkshire puds and Lancashire hot pot by the vat-load could be a viable alternative…how does that referendum thing work again?

The Final WC Leaderboard Position

In contrast with our England CW Games competitiors, Johnny Zero’s final position in the WC Leaderboard (for those that are interested – and it’s not many it has to be said) was 121st out of 287. Not too bad really, top half of the table. If Huddersfield Town are top half of the table come the season end, then I shall be pleasantly pleased!

league

121 out of 287, now only Town can repeat that form… (Click to enlarge)

England Top the Table

England win out in the medals table at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, surging ahead of early pacesetters Australia, who are relegated to second place. England finish with 174 medals, including 58 golds. 27 medals were won in athletics, more than any other nation. I wish I were talking about England being successful in football, rather than the hop, skip and jump and riding a bicycle, but I’m not. Still, at least we’re good at something…

They Think It’s All Over, Actually It Is!

Quarter Finals Day 1
France 0-1 Germany
France had slowly began to build up a degree of momentum in this tournament, but Germany was a bridge too far for Les Bleus. Despite five French shots on target, the man mountain Neuer could have been little more invincible between the sticks if he’d have been allowed to build a brick wall along the goal line. Unfortunately for France and their history of building dodgy walls (the Maginot Line, very topical Johnny…), the Germans found a way through the French defences as early as the 12th minute with a decisive goal from Hummels. Germany had the midfield sewn up along with the majority of first half possession. France had a bigger say in the match after the break, but could not find a way past the magnificent Neuer.

Talking of goalies, there had been mention of this being a grudge match. Not for the occupation of France during World War Two, nothing so trivial, but for the meeting of the two nations in the 1982 tournament when the German Keeper Schumacher took out Patrick Battiston by completely ignoring the flight of the ball to fell the hapless Frenchman with a Hanomag Half Track that he habitually kept parked behind goal for occasions that required maximum brutality. He managed to complete the job by reversing over him several times to inflict three broken ribs, the loss of a couple of teeth and an intermittent comatose state. The ref didn’t even see fit to award a free kick, let alone send off the German for what was widely interpreted as a deliberate assault. The referee in fact awarded Shumacher an on-the-spot Iron Cross for his contribution to the furtherment  of the art of grievous bodily harm. To rub salt in the wound, the match went to penalties with the Germans progressing thanks to two saved spot kicks from the gigantic German. To seal any degree of vengeance, the minimum impact required is to win the match. As they failed to attain the minimum requirement, the effect was severely diminished. Nay, nullified and Germany go on to face the host nation, Brazil in the semis.

Brazil 2-1 Columbia
Jumping the gun a bit there, as Brazil had to beat Columbia first and I certainly had this down as the point that the Brazilios would finally be found out and despatched from their own tournament. Columbia had looked like a very capable side in the World Cup so far, with the prolific Rodriquez bagging a choice goal or two. Brazil had blundered their way through with a mixture of helpful refereeing decisions, beneficial fixturing and a whole host of Zurich originated back slapping.

On the day, Columbia were strangely out of sorts and Brazil looked like the better side for the first time in the tournament. An early goal from captain Thiago Silva settled Brazilio nerves, but he was later ruled out of the next match by picking up a yellow card. In the second half, some level of daylight was achieved with a second Brazilan goal as David Luiz lifted a superb free kick over the wall and out of reach of the flailing Columbian keeper. It was never a free kick though and the ref seemed to have an unhelpful level of affection for Brazil throughout the match. Columbia’s chief threat was obviously going to be goal machine James Rodriguez, this threat was tactically reduced by kicking the lad up in the air at every opportunity. At the end of the match, his legs would prove to be the ideal reference material for anyone requiring a detailed colour chart for a redecoration project; providing – of course – that their chosen colour ways were black and blue.

It didn’t all go the way of the Brazilios, however. In addition to losing their captain for the next match, they also lost what was apparently one of the greatest players in the world, as Neymar was careless enough to attempt to injure a Columbian’s kneecap with his spine. The backbone is an unusual body part with which to attempt an injurious assault on an opponent and this remarkably bad choice of weapon was to prove a major error resulting in Neymar cracking two vertebrae. Tschh, modern players, Bert Trautmann played on with a broken neck!

A Columbian goal ten minutes from time prompted a late flurry of action as an equaliser was keenly sought. Always difficult when playing against twelve men, however, and Brazil go on the meet Germany in the semis.

Quarter Finals Day 2
Argentina 1-0 Belgium
Widely tipped Belgium faced many people’s tournament favourites Argentina in the concrete capital Brasilia. This was a bit of a damp squib of a game in truth. Belgium failed to find any fluidity until late in the game when they resorted to lumping it long to Fellaini. Argentina, weren’t much better really and most of the praise in the media seemed to be reserved for Messi (who is apparently the best player that there has ever been. Ever.) Words like ‘balletic’, ‘precision’, ‘pirouette’ and other such winsome  nonsense were dragged out of the ‘hackneyed football writer’s thesaurus’. Reading between the lines, you would deduce that in a piss poor game, featuring largely mediocre performances one bloke having a decent game stood out. That doesn’t fill the column inches though, does it? Oh yeah, Argentina won 1-0.

Holland 0-0 Costa Rica (Holland win 4-3 on pens)
One more place in the final four was up for grabs and logic would tell you that Holland, destroyers of the world champions, should look the favoured side against surprise package Costa Rica. Costa Rica, remember, are a country of with no armed forces, a size of population that would comfortably fit in a Ford Zephyr and whose highest previous honour had been a third place finish in the equivalent of the Huddersfield & District Sunday League Second Division. Armed with this dossier of fallibility, Holland stuck ten men behind the ball for the majority of the match! Even Robben was strangely vertical for a much greater proportion of the proceedings than usual. The spoiling tactics were sufficient to force (!) a penalty shoot out and, for this, Van Gaal took the unlikeliest decision of the tournament to date. With seconds of the goalless extra time to spare, he substituted the keeper, bringing on Newcastle stopper Tim Krul. Bizarre though it had seemed, the decision bore fruit as Krul performed wonders to keep out Costa Rica in the shoot out. A replay of the 1978 final between Argentina and Holland was now on the cards.

Semi Final 1
Brazil 1-7 Germany
In the 1979/80 promotion season, Huddersfield Town Beat Port Vale 7-1. Such was the seismic proportion of this result and fantastical likelihood of scoring so many goals, the BBC teleprinter offered helpful confirmation by supplementing the result the word ‘seven’ in brackets afterwards (seven). If the teleprinter had still been a fixture in the BBC studio, it may have repeated this feat, but added several exclamation marks and, ‘really! We’re not shitting you!’ The wheels fell off the Brazilian bandwagon big style! The last time Brazil were ‘humiliated’ in their own back yard, by losing to Uruguay in the 1950 Brazil World Cup, they changed their strip from all white to the yellow/blue/green combination that is more familiar to us today. Perhaps their next game will see them sporting the all black mourning strip? If the Brazilian nation had been in custody, charged with impersonating a footballing world power, they would have had their belts and shoelaces confiscated.

I haven’t even mentioned the match yet! After a brief initial Brazilian flurry of activity resulting in a lame dive in the box that concluded with the award of precisely bugger all, the game took a decisive turn. In the 11th minute, the Germans took the lead. That was just the start, before the half hour was on the clock, Germany had blitzed Brazil and were to go into halftime 5-0 up. Brazil were shell shocked and chasing shadows, they simply didn’t know what the hell had hit them. After the break the Brazilians looked a little livelier for while, this is down to the Germans apparently agreeing at the interval to ‘go easy on them’. Whether this is true or not, goals six and seven followed and a bit like Huddersfield Town’s seven goal haul against Palace in 1999, chants of ‘we want eight, we want eight’ could be heard (or should that be ‘wir wollen acht’?) And just like Town v Palace, Germany were visibly annoyed with themselves for letting in a consolation goal. There was a very real possibility that the Earth could be knocked marginally off its orbit as a whole nation’s jaws collectively hit the floor.

Don’t want to say ‘I told you so’, but…

Well, Spana Man's changed his tune!

Well, Spana Man’s changed his tune!

Semi Final 2
Holland v Argentina
For the chance to meet Germany in the final, Argentina and Holland would play out another edition of ‘Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Entirely Predictable’. A stultifying ninety minutes of, what was fraudulently described as, football gave way to a further soporific half hour of goal mouth non-action. Not even ‘the best player in any known galaxy (in the past or will ever be at any point in the conceivable future), ever’, could wrest the match out of its torpor. In fact, the best chances fell to him and he fluffed them. Come the final minute of extra time, Van Gaal realised that he had been remiss enough to use all of his three substitutions wastefully on outfield positions. With Tim Krul marooned on the bench, there was only ever going to be one result, especially with the officials allowing the, now regulation, standing a yard off the line for South American keepers. The Argentinios were no great shakes and had the Dutch been more adventurous there’s no reason at all why they could have stuffed Argentina in the ninety. It was not in the tea leaves, however, and it was to be a Germany/Argentina final.

Booby Prize
Brazil 0-3 Holland
The third placed play of is the most meaningless game in world football, with that in mind, the biggest surprise was that the Brazil team dared to show their faces in public for the possibility of not even being good enough to win a match that had no worth whatsoever. I remember the England v Italy match in Italia 90, It would have been better for all concerned to have simply flipped a coin. As it was, Brazil’s humiliation was complete with another drubbing at the hands of a Northern European side. At least they kept it to single figures.

The Big One
Argentina v Germany
When confronted with errant German tourists on holiday in Spain, my Dad was often known to utter that immortal phrase, ‘Who won the bloody war anyway?’ If it had been Germany, then we would all be driving round in German cars, dancing to the financial tune of Berlin and supporting the German national team…wait a minute! We’re not all speaking German yet though, nicht wahr? If for no other reason than to see a European side finally win a World Cup in the Americas, my support was firmly behind Germany. However, falling at the final hurdle of this epic blog, I have to admit that I didn’t actually see the final! I was unavoidably driving to Essex. I caught a fair bit of the second half on my phone whilst at a lengthy standstill in a traffic jam, but only heard most of the match. It was a chess game by all accounts and only a phenomenal goal by Gotze saved the match from a penalty shoot out with seven minutes to spare.

The Germans have always been prolific at winning, which we know to our own cost, though their style has often been rather mechanical. This time the Germans not only win matches, but are an exciting team to watch. Argentina, for the record, failed to land a single shot on target in 120 odd minutes of football. The biggest squandered chance fell to the ‘best player in universes not yet discovered’, when he was put though on goal and put the angled shot wide of the post. It didn’t get much better to be honest and Messi looked increasingly tired and isolated as the match went on. That’s the way it sounded anyway!

The Brazilios were given the Jules Rimet Trophy for keeps after winning it for a third time. Germany have now won this trophy three times. Do they get to keep it? You can bet they would be a good deal more efficient at hanging on to it than the Brazilios; you can’t imagine it being half inched from under the German’s noses to be melted down into Big Ron-style medallions. In fact, the way they played in this tournament, I can’t see anyone taking the trophy off them anytime soon!

Round (Up) of 16

Round of 16 Day 1
Brazil 1-1 Chile (Brazil win 3-2 on pens)
Brazil, having wriggled their way to the Second Round when performances indicated that they should have been on the bus home after the First, had another chance to prove that they were more simply than a team of one star player. Though, to be perfectly honest, the tournament failed to identify exactly what the supposed big deal was about Neymar; the only remarkable thing to present itself to date was the ease with which he seemed to take part in civilized society unscathed, whilst sporting the kind of hair do that would be certain to get you your head kicked in on a Friday night in Halifax.

Up until now, there had seemed to have been a more-than-is-considered-reasonable rub of the green from the officials. Enter Rotherham’s own Howard Webb as the man in black (or whatever this year’s favoured hue is on the referees’ catwalk). Webb had been  referee of the last World Cup Final, one in which he booked every player on the pitch, several that weren’t even in the stadium, plus all the management staff, bench and a reasonable percentage of the crowd; surely he couldn’t be controlled remotely from Zurich? The answer came after after the match was but a few minutes old, as a now typically theatrical fall in the box for a promised… sorry claimed penalty was waved away

The first half was a storming affair and Brazil scored a legitimate goal through David Luiz. Fortunately for rationality, Chile equalised after half an hour through Sanchez; not sure of his first name, but for the sake of frivolity let’s spoonerise Don Quixote’s mate and call him Pancho. Late in the half, Hulk (more David Banner, surely…) used that old South American technique of confusing the codes and using his Germans to bundle the ball over the line. Mr Webb had evidently been somewhat remiss in keeping up to date with his FIFA memos and rightly disallowed the ‘goal’. David Banner himself was most vocal in his protestations, “What do you mean I can’t hands it into the net and use every trick in the book to cheat my way onto the scoreboard and onwards to the final sponsored by FIFA.” I imagine he might have said, if I had heard a word of it. As it is, I didn’t, but the crowd seemed to back up that sentiment.

So all square at half time at the end of what had been an entertaining passage of play and, infuriatingly for the home crowd, a reluctance by the ref to gift the match to Brazil out of pure sentiment. It is rumoured that Sepp barged his way out of the arena at this point, muttering something about ‘Plan B’. Fair play to him for his in-depth knowledge of modern hip hop/soul fusion artists, but the football comes first Sepp, surely?

The second half failed to continue with the same entertainment quotient and an inevitable period of extra time beckoned. No further goals in open play were to be recorded, but the introduction of Pinilla for Chile gave them a resurgence of impact on the game and late on it looked as though the ball was heading for the top corner when a loud ‘thunk!’ was heard from the hospitality area. As it turned out, a colossal electrical switch, reminiscent of one that might have been seen  in a Frankenstein movie, had been thrown, thus inducting FIFA’s patented ‘Magenetic Crossbar’ ® technology (ahh, Plan B, geddit now…). This piece of high tech gadgetry would also be used to good effect in the inevitable penalty shoot out. Though it wasn’t strictly necessary, as the Brazilian keeper was allowed to stand two yards off his line for every shot. Now that Zurich had wrenched back the balance of power, Brazil were assured progress to the quarters (where if FIFA had had their way, they would have faced Stockport County).

Columbia 2-0 Uruguay
Uruguay without Suaraez was a bit like Whitechapel without Jack the Ripper and Columbia eased past their hapless South American compadres to face Brazil in the quarters. Now in fairness to Columbia, they had looked the real deal in the finals and Uruguay were lost without their talisman. If only he could have bitten a Costa Rican in their opener! We natuarally assumed his absence to be fitness-based, rather than an unrequited taste for human flesh. That’s the kind of luck that passes England by…

Suarez serving his Wacky Races sentence

Suarez serving his Wacky Races sentence

Not to take anything away from Columbia, for whom Rodriquez with a goal in each half was the star performer.

Stattofacto of the Dayo: Can Brazil really be trusted with the World Cup? The Jules Rimet Trophy, the one that Bobby Moore held aloft and gleaming on a sunny July day in 1966, no longer exists. The Brazilios, rather foolishly entrusted with it in perpetuity after their third win, were careless enough to get it nicked and melted down by petty criminals. At least when we lost it, we assigned Pickles of the Yard to ensure its swift return…

Round of 16 Day 2
Holland 2-1 Mexico
Holland had looked to be the team to beat as they put the soon-to-be-deposed world champions to the sword, but in subsequent matches had struggled to achieve the same performance levels. Mexico had looked quite useful at times and this was not considered to be an easy match for our German-hating buddies from the low countries. As it was, and despite Mexico opening the scoring and super heroics from their keeper – who bore more than a passing resemblance to Art Garfunkel (or was it Mort from Family Guy?) – Holland sealed their place in the Quarters with a 2-1 win, but it took a penalty to avoid extra time.

Art Garfunkel yesterday

Art Garfunkel yesterday

Simon & Ochoa anyone?

Simon & Ochoa anyone?

or maybe?

or maybe?

The penalty was won by Huntelaar sent sprawling in the area- nah, just kidding, of course it was Robben who went down! Huntelaar was the man who calmly slotted it home not long after joining the fray, however. The Mexicans complained bitterly after the match finished about the number of times Robben dived in the box (sounds familiar) and he even admitted it, though added that the one for the winner really was a penalty! That’s ok then, what are they whingeing about?

Costa Rica 1-1 Greece (Costa Rica win 5-3 on pens)
Costa Rica, chief beneficiaries of England’s woefulness, faced Greece for a punt at Holland in the quarters. Greece had looked poor for most of the tournament, but seemed to step up a gear. Despite this, former Cottager – better rephrase that – former Fulham player Bryan Ruiz opened the scoring early in the second half and it looked, despite concerted Greek pressure and Costa Rica’s reduction to ten men, that they would seal the gig against Van Gaal’s men. Late in the game, however, surprise substitute Mr Papadopolous from the laundrette in Eastenders popped up to score a late, late equaliser and force extra time. You would perhaps have expected this to have tipped the balance away from ten man Costa Rica, but Greece failed to find the winning goal and penalties were decisive in favour of the Central Americans and their heroic keeper, Navas.

Stattofacto of the Dayo: In a long-running Eastenders joke (the only one, surely?), Dot Cotton can never pronounce the  surname of Mr Papadopolous, and instead refers to him as Mr. Oppodopolus, Oppydoppy, Olopolopous, Octopussius or various other knockabout mispronunciations.

Round of 16 Day 3
France 2-0 Nigeria
France took to the field in what closely resembled a Spurs strip, even down to the cockerel on the shirt. This was surely a portent of doom if ever there was one. France, however, managed to overcome this hex and, more importantly, overcome Nigeria to reach the final eight and a potential meeting with Brussels buddies Germany. Nigeria were game opponents and were particularly strong in the second half, but lost momentum after having a late decider ruled out for offside. France then seized the initiative and grabbed two late goals from Pogba and Yobo. Pogba’s strutting celebration was strangely reminiscent of a certain Italian player. I fully expected the guy to lift his shirt to reveal the slogan, ‘Pourquoi tojours moi’, but alas it was not to be…

Pourquoi tojours moi?

Pourquoi tojours moi?

Germany 2-1 Algeria AET
Now if Germany could only overcome Algeria, they could meet the resurgent France in the next round. It might have seemed like a bye to the quarters, but the Algerians are not the pushover they might once have been – they got substantially further than England for feck’s sake! It was an open encounter and the Germans looked strangely sluggish against the energised North Africans. Germany survived several scares as the tie headed into unexpected extra time. An early Schurrle goal fail to settle the Germans, looking to reach the quarters for the 17th time in 18 finals appearances. Even when Mesut Ozil doubled the lead with a minute to go, there was still drama as Algeria’s Djabou whacked in a late volley to see the Germans squirm over the finishing line. Germany v France in Rio it is then and with it went the last African interest in the tournament.

Stattofacto of the Day: Algeria were knocked out of the 1982 World Cup after West Germany’s somewhat dubious 1-0 win over fellow Prussians, Austria, saw the result that was conveniently needed for both to qualify. What raised the spectre of match fixing was the fact that the officials and all 22 players suspiciously left the field during most the second half, sharing a few games at a local ten pin bowling alley before a slap up feed at a nearby sauerkraut restaurant and a few foaming steins of aryan lager beer, before returning to the field of play to enjoy forty winks together in the centre circle prior to the match being declared an “efficient result”. All true…

Round of 16 Day 4
Argentina 1-0 Switzerland AET
Argentina and their maestro superstar players of apparently intergalactic proportions would surely blow away Switzerland as if a cobweb in a hurricane. You would’ve thought wouldn’t you? In reality, the Swiss – square flagged purveyors of neutrality – gave the Argentinios a bit of a scare. Although Argentina dominated possession, the Swiss stifling tactics almost worked until a through ball from Lionel Blair and a goal from Di Maria saw the winner. Even then this turgid match threatened to rise from the grave as a shot against the post and an effort narrowly wide almost saw Switzerland piss on Argentina’s chips.

Belgium 2-1 USA AET
Belgium were fancied by many, purely on the convenient basis that there are a few decent players in the Prem who, by some quirk of birth, happen to be Belgian. There are a few decent players in the Prem that are English and look how that turned out! The USA are nobody’s whipping boys though and they gave the Flemish/Walloon combo a bit of a fright. The Belgians were undoubtedly the more technically accomplished side, but the application and persistence of the Americans was worthy of high praise. Tim Howard is said to have made more saves in this match than have ever been made in every World Cup match ever played, errr, all put together, or something like that. The tie was all square and goalless at full time but a 2-1 victory for Belgium was the final result. The Boys from across the pond (and quite often the Premier League) done good, but it was the side that can’t decide whether it’s French or Dutch that were the final team to book their place in the last eight.

Stattofacto of the Dayo: USA and Everton keeper Tim Howard suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome, a disorder that causes the sufferer to utter involuntary words and phrases, yet despite this socially debilitating condition has forged a career at the highest club and international level. Fair play to him!

Bumper Post England Group Stage Round Up

The post England lethargy certainly slowed down the Johnny Zero World Cup Blog, a late charge up the Prediction League leader board has seen a renewed energy, however. At this rate, I could break into the top 100!

Day 12
Holland 2-0 Chile
With both teams having qualified, this match was something of a dead rubber. Holland’s stats showed that they had less than a third of possession, yet two late goals sealed a second successive 9 point haul from the World Cup group stages. In direct contrast, Arjen Robben spent 74% of the match in mid flight or sat on his arse with his hands in the air.
StattoFacto: Holland played an international match at Huddersfield’s Leeds Road ground in 1946 against England. Holland lost 8-2!

Australia 0-3 Spain
Spain’s dreadful World Cup campaign continued for most of the first half, as the bewildered World Champions staggered around like a drunken farm animal. Eleven drunken farm animals, in fact. Eleven drunken farm animals who had never met before. A goal from Villa gave them back a sense of purpose, before a second half strike from Torres – his first of the tournament on target – bizarrely went in. I can’t imagine what he was actually aiming for! A third from Mata wrapped the match up for the Spaniardos and they celebrated managing not to finish bottom of the group in some style. The poor Aussies were nilled, however, both in goals on the day and points in the group.
StattoFacto: In the formative years of package travel to Spain in the early 70s, imported copies of The Sun would have bikinis crudely drawn on to the page three girls’ assets to promote catholic morality.

Cameroon 1-4 Brazil
Despite allegations of match fixing, Cameroon were happy that Brazil’s relationship with Zurich would not see them at a disadvantage. The stadium in Brasilia was rocking as Neymar somehow managed to scuff a shot beyond the Cameroon keeper. Things looked to be going a little pear shaped for the hosts, however, as Nyom beat Phyllis Pearce lookalike Dani Alves for an unlikely equaliser. Unlikely unless you’re an influential Middle Eastern spread betting expert, that is. Things were going the Zurich way by the end of the match, though. With Brazil running out 4-1 winners. A score line that would have Roger Milla turning in his grave. That’s if he were dead, of course. Which he isn’t, despite being about 54 when he played in Italia ’90.

Dani Alves, yesterday

Dani Alves, yesterday

 

StattoFacto: Brazil’s current capital city, Brasilia, was invented in the 1950s and built on stilts in the jungle entirely from concrete. It succeeded Rio Di Janeiro as capital in 1960

Croatia 1-3 Mexico
Despite their towering performance against Brazil in the opening match of the tournament, Croatia simply weren’t at the races in this match. Mexico won through to face the same host nation that had scraped a lucky draw to save their embarrassment, by virtue of a very dubious penalty decision.
StattoFacto: The original VW Beetle ended its days in Puebla, Mexico in 2003, over sixty years after it’s first inception and after 21.5 million had been produced worldwide.

Day 13
Italy 0-1 Uruguay

Italy could have helped England to limp into the second round, only to be undone by Costa Rica, who had themselves tonked Uruguay in the first group match. It had to happen didn’t it? Uruguay scored a late goal to send the Italians home with England. That, of course, was neither the biggest surprise nor the major talking point.

'E takea da chunk outa me ref!

‘E takea da chunk outa me ref!

The match was destined to be remembered for Suarez chomping on yet another passing opposition player! At first he claimed to have stumbled forwards, his not insubstantial choppers accidentally falling upon the hapless Italian’s shoulder. This is an excuse that would draw the same raised eyebrow as from bemused A&E staff to the unconvincing man with a vacuum cleaner attachment stuck up his bottom, claiming to have slipped whilst hoovering (“I was naked Nurse, yes”).

StattoFacto: After his proposed move to Barcelona looked to be in doubt due to his outright lack of contrition, the ‘South American Eating an Apple Through a Letter Box Champion 2012’, was forced to come clean and admit to his carnivorous tendencies. He was sentenced to serve three series as the short sighted beaver with Rufus Ruffcut in the Buzzwagon on Wacky Races.

Costa Rica 0-0 England
In a gripping spectacle that threatened to rival drying paint, England and Costa Rica strolled out a boring nil-nil, to at least send the England players home with a consolation point. One that would afford them great succour as they crept back into the country under the cover of darkness to count their money. The venue, Bela Horizonte, was ironically where England had suffered a shock defeat to the USA in 1950. In fairness, the USA team had been rounded up off the docks that morning and, as the ref felt sorry for them, they were allowed to pick up the ball and run with it.
StattoFacto: Costa Rica is one of only fifteen countries in the world with no armed forces. They could shortly be joined by Scotland.

Japan 1-4 Columbia
Columbia set up a Suarez-free tie with Uruguay, while Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni obviously had other things on his mind.

Get a load of them, missus

Get a load of them, missus

 

StattoFacto: The iconic Sony TR55 ‘pocket’ transistor radio of 1955 wasn’t actually small enough to fit into a pocket, so Sony’s sales force were equipped with specially made shirts complete with oversized breast pockets!

Greece 2-1 Ivory Coast
Greece had looked poor all tournament and started the match bottom of the group. After a first half Greek lead was pegged back late in the second half, it looked to heading for a draw and elimination. Only for a 93rd minute penalty to gift the Greeks a place in the Round of 16.
StattoFacto: The Elgin Marbles (or Parthenon Marbles if you’re Greek) is not an early playground game from the cradle of civilisation, but a carved frieze purchased by Lord Elgin from the Turkish occupation force to save it being crushed and used for road stone. Learned Greek scholars claim this version of events to be, “Bollocks”.

Day 14
Nigeria 2-3 Argentina

Both teams qualified, despite Nigeria’s narrow defeat. Every time Argentina took the lead, Nigeria equalised, until Rojo’s deciding goal in the 50th minute saw the South Americans top the group for a Round of 16 tie with Switzerland.
StattoFacto: Nigeria’s most prodigious export, apart from letters imploring you to accept a large bank transfer in exchange for a small sum of cash, is oil.

Bosnia Herzegovina 3-1 Iran
Who knows? It would appear that Bosnia won.
StattoFacto: Until very recently, the Hillman Hunter was just about the only car to be found in Iran; it was made there – as the Peykan – from kits sent out from Coventry.

Honduras 0-3 Switzerland
Shaqiri of Bayern Munich scored a hat trick to send Switzerland through to a tie with Argentina in the Round of 16.
StattoFacto: Switzerland, famously not the world’s only square-flagged nation, supplies the Pope’s Swiss Guards in Vatican City, with whom it shares an equilateral flag shape.

Ecuador 0-0 France
A win for Ecuador could have seen them progress to the next stage. Scoring no goals certainly hampered their efforts and, instead, France topped the group with Switzerland in second
StattoFacto: Ecuador – equator in Spanish – also includes the Galápagos Islands, where Darwin’s studies helped to form his Theory of Evolution. Though this is not widely acknowledged in some states of the USA.

Day 15
Portugal 2-1 Ghana

Despite a win over Ghana, the seismic goal shift required to see Portugal progress never materialised. Both teams headed home.
StattoFacto: Portugal is not only England’s oldest ally, but this is the oldest alliance in the world that is still in force and dates back to 1373.

USA 0-1 Germany
The USA are one of the surprises of the tournament. From a nation who didn’t know that balls could be round, to a very useful side in a few short years. Though they have a world class keeper in Tim Howard and some exciting playmakers, they perhaps lack a world class striker to convert chances. It will probably come though and we could certainly see a USA side competing at the top of world football. they are certainly the most successful English speaking side at the this World Cup Finals (I use the term ‘English speaking’ loosely, of course). At this moment in time, however, the most exciting team in the world are Germany and not even the USA could see them off. A defeat, by a solitary goal, to the best team in the world is not bad going though. Both sides qualify.
StattoFacto: The USA purchased Alaska from Russia in the 19th century for 2 cents an acre. It became the 49th state in 1959. the Russians were later rather peeved to find that it was swimming in oil

Korea 0-1 Belgium
Though, on paper, this should have been an easy tie for Belgium – a team many people were tipping to go far – they made heavy weather of it against stubborn resistance and it took a late strike to seal a one goal victory. The win sees them progress to face the USA in the next stage.
StattoFacto: Belgium is the home of Stella Artois, brewed in the university town of Leuven. Unfortunately, the version we get over here comes from South Wales.

Algeria 1-1 Russia
If Russia could have held on to their lead, they could have progressed. Unfortunately for them, and former England Manager Fabio Capello and His assistant, Gnasher, Algeria equalised to book their place in the last sixteen. Capello subsequently blamed a laser fired from the crowd that ‘blinded’ the Russian keeper. Sure it wasn’t polonium 210, Fabio?
StattoFacto: Fabio Capello can often be seen sporting a red and white hooped jumper and shorts ensemble. The catapult hanging out of his back pocket can often be used to good effect when taunting Walter the Softy or the English FA.

Coming Next: The Round (Up) of 16

England Expectorates, Days 9 to 11

“Forza Italia!” Was the end of the last report as we looked to Italy, our European compatriots, our friends and comrades from the mainland, our NATO allies and EU partners, to do us a favour and give us a leg up to – at least a hope of – the Round of Sixteen. England expects! Guess what? England got what it expected, bugger all!

We expected at least Balotelli (who owed us one after his final whistle gesturing) to turn it on. The same Balotelli, who destroyed us with a marauding header, the Balotelli who claimed a prospective pecker from the Monarch for his promised assistance, the Balotelli who professes a desire to return to the Premier League because we don’t call him names and steal his dinner money like they do in Italy, did he deliver? Did he buggery. The whole of the Azurri team seemed to be suffering a related ailment to Tom Tucker’s son in Family Guy, except instead of being afflicted with an upside-down head, all of their limbs seemed to be on back to front. A 1-0 victory saw the Costa Ricans elevated to God-like status in their homeland. Thanks a lot Italy! And after all we did for you during the war, letting you empty the bins in Huddersfield. Fine thanks we get.

The fact is, we had chances in both of our games that we didn’t take and got punished; Huddersfieldtownium Screwitupus Syndrome, for the learned amongst us. Requiring snookers to progress is not an ideal situation (especially inasmuch as it’s a completely different and unrelated game) and one that left us with the worst record since the World Cup of 1958, so the statto-obsessed commentators keep telling us… hold on…at least we qualified in ’58, unlike in ’74, ’78 and ’94. So not strictly true then, guys? Football commentators in shock, ‘talk bollocks’ scandal! #BusinessAsUsual

The rest of the matches were marred by my having thrown the remote control in the garden and taken to the brandy, so no real clarity should be derived from them beyond the results. France tonked Switzerland by 5 goals to 1. Where did your square flag get you there, Hans? And Ecuador beat Honduras 2-1. For a bonus point, without Googling, what is the capital city of Ecuador, answer at the foot of the page.*

So that was Friday, but as Cathy McGowan would have it, the weekend starts here and Saturdays’s matches began with Argentina bleating about the Malvinas (funny, I thought that was an ice lolly?) But for all their political posturing (for which FIFA will do precisely jack), they managed to scrape a narrow 1-0 against our new bezzy mates, Iran.

In the second match of the day, Ghana began to live up to their billing as Africa’s strongest side, by almost turning the Germans over. Germany had to rely on Klose making an appearance from the bench in his bath chair to rescue a point. In doing so, he became all time joint top scorer in the World Cup finals.

Nigeria continued an African resurgence by beating Bosnia 1-0 in the final match of the day.

Sunday and the last of the second matches began with Belgium v Russia. Since their previous match, FIFA had awarded Russia a major new pipeline deal, thought to involve a constant flow of beluga caviar and Stolichnaya vodka to the inner sanctum of the palatial Zurich HQ of the world’s foremost football governing body. As the match looked to be heading for a dour goalless stalemate, on came substitute David Platt to snatch the three points in the 88th minute.

In the second match, Gary Lineker’s hot tip for Africa’s high achievers, Algeria, faced South Korea. Although Korea failed to achieve a single shot on target in the first half, Son Heung-min and Koo Ja-cheol, a strike partnership reminiscent of a bullet ricocheting around a canyon in a cowboy film, managed to bag a brace between them. Unfortunately, the first came when 3-0 down and the second at 4-1.

The stage was set for the competition’s sole surviving English speaking nation, the USA, to take on the Iberian Show Pony. The USA, the country with the greatest number of travelling fans, looked to dispel their reputation as an elephant’s graveyard for once fine European players. The Americans look to have embraced the Association code to such an extent that they actually looked like a very dangerous side. The USA battered Portugal and looked good value for a 2-1 win, which would have dumped the Portuguese out of the tournament, only for a late, late equaliser to extend the misery of elimination to the last day.

If the African sides are failing to make an impact, the Europeans are stretchering some significant casualties from the field of play! Find out who makes it to the Round of Sixteen in our next exciting instalment. Same bat time, same bat channel. See you soon, playmates!

*Trivia answer. If you said ‘Ecuador City’, award yourself a can of Sainsbury’s 2.1% Basics Lager. If you said ‘Quito’, award yourself a double shot of chilled Stolichnaya, if you can get to it before Sepp…

England Trivia, the Answers…

The answers to the trivia question about the 1966 World Cup winning side. You may recall that we asked you to identify which 5 England players’ Christian names ended with the letter ‘N’. If you had grown up with this knocking about the house…

1966 programme

Official Souvenir Programme from the 1966 World Cup

…you would have known the answers. The obvious ones are GordoN Banks, MartiN Peters and AlaN Ball. The tricky ones were RamoN Wilson and JohN Charlton. The evidence is below. Click the thumbnail to enlarge…

England squad 1966

Every player that was in the 1966 World Cup squad. Click to enlarge.