wyart lane's world cup diary


31.5.2002     Whistle Down The Windbag

The whole opening ceremony of the World Cup is a misguided and overblown affair which frankly adds little to the World Cup, other than giving the home country(ies) a chance to display their ability to put on a big show.  This tournament's exhibition "From the East", was a completely incomprehensible display of meaningful dancing and ceremony.  Apparently.

By far the most entertaining part of the proceedings had come before the show, when Josep Blatter got up to make his World Cup speech.  With so many whistles coming from the crowd, one would have thought that the entire squad of match officials for the tournament were getting in some practice.  So disturbed by this was the re-elected President of FIFA, that he paused mid-speech to say "Fair Play please" !!  And what sort of kettle were you calling the pot there Sepp ??  I am sure that given the opportunity, he would have rounded up the offending members of the crowd and left them like the participants in the opening ceremony who had metal bars seemingly sticking through their heads.

The TeleFaces (TVs for heads not bellies) that starred in the dancing were surreal and allegedly showed the technological excellence of Korea.  There were also small children dressed up in national costume took the pitch and they were as stereotyped as you could imagine.  I swear I saw a kid dressed up as Dick van Dyke's sweep in "Mary Poppins", who must have been representing England.  I wonder if he had the same accent ??  Disney have a lot to answer for.

The whole shebang cost 5.5 million.  Small change in relation to what FIFA have lost in th4e last few years, but money that could surely be better spent trying to save clubs and leagues from going out of existence.  Or arranging for the travel for some countries not so well off to fulfill their international fixtures.  But that wouldn't leave much profit for any of the cronies surrounding FIFA would it ??

So to the game.  And where on Earth could you find a bigger surprise than Senegal beating World and European champions France ??  The arrogant, strutting collection of those you love to hate clearly missed ZZ and were lacking the dynamic in their play.  Chances did come at both ends, with the woodwork being hit more often than that of the Edgbaston boundary boards by the English cricket team on the same day. But was the match a weird replay of the final of 1998, with France playing Brazil and Senegal taking the World Cup holders role ??

There seemed little to indicate that the holders were ready to step up another gear and now that they have no points, they will need to beat both Uruguay and Denmark.  Not impossible, but with the clueless Lebeouf in defence, sliding in at every opportunity, there were moments when Senegal were clearly too quick for them.  And what damage could Liverpool bound Diouf have inflicted had he been able to stay onside more often than our own Chris Armstrong ?

There were good performances from Cisse in defence and Fandiga in attack too, but it came as no surprise when Petit was the first player to receive a yellow card in the tournament.  The expected spate of bookings for diving and time wasting did not arise, mainly because of the sensible reffing of the UAE official.  Let's hope many more follow his common sense approach.

The solidity of the Senegal side showed that any naivety of African teams defending might now have been consigned to the dustbin.  The keeper Sylva dealt with anything that came his way and while he relied on the post and bar, there was little that looked like getting past him.  France seemed to lack ideas and their subs made little impact, so Senegal could rely on the pace of Diouf hitting them on the break.  One such saw him skip away from Lebeouf and cross low into the box.  It was met by Petit, who kicked the ball against his own keeper and it fell invitingly for Papa Bouba Dioup to kick it in, while lying on the ground !! 

The following celebration of dancing around the scorers shirt (obviously an alternative to the handbag which might catch on in Romford clubs) was joyous.  But it was nothing to that at the end of the game, when the final whistle signalled a dancing frenzy that put the opening ceremony to shame.

Senegal have set the tone for the tournament.  I hope they continue to show the world that there is a joy about the game that we often forget.  It was almost as delicious as when Terry Venables and Des Lynam cracked a funny and it was a full ten seconds before Paul Gascoigne laughed at it.  As the top players will tell you, it's all about  ... ... ... timing.

Group A  -  France  0  Senegal  1
INTERESTING FACT : - At the end of the game there were two Cisses on the pitch ... one for each side.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY : - Why were the French wearing some sort of string vest as a shirt ??
INVENTED WORD OF THE DAY : - Aggressivity (JF Hasselbaink)


1.6.2002     On The Button

Those nice people at Telewest made a big difference in my World Cup viewing when I woke up this morning to find that our cable digital service now had the option of being interactive.  This meant that I was able to watch the Cameroon v Republic of Ireland match with the commentary provided by Radio Five Live.  It was good to have Andy Gray's exuberant insights while watching the pictures and even if you don't have this facility on your TV, I would suggest you try it with a radio ... it's good.

Anyway, onto the game and the vest style shirts had obviously been outlawed by FIFA, as the Cameroon team came out with some short sleeve device that wrapped around the back, but no further.  I know this as there did not appear to be any armpits to the shirt when the camera closed in (not a special feature on the interactive facility).  I wondered if "Roy Keane ... are you watching on the box ?", but soon forgot about him as players like Stephen Carr would love to have been playing, but injury prevented them.  What, we ask, prevented Keane apart from his over-inflated opinion of himself and less that appreciative opinion of anyone else.  He wasn't going to be the difference between the two sides, that was clearly the size of the Cameroonians.  When they played England they looked big, but against the tiny leprechauns of Ireland it looked like they might be giants !!  

The African side were quicker off the blocks than the Premiership team and rightly took a lead, when they almost re-created Senegal's goal of yesterday.  Eto'o showed some magic in making Staunton look bewildered and squared for Mbomba to slot home.  It was interesting to watch the Real Mallorca player, with news that he might be interested in coming to Tottenham.  Eto'o looked strong for a 21 year old and chased back hard, when he was needed in defence.  However, he did have a couple of chances one-on-one with the keeper, one of which he had saved and directed the other wide.  One funny moment came when Foe hit a screamer of a shot that managed to hit the moving camera on a gantry behind the goal.

The second half started better for Ireland, with some more aggressive play and better passing.  Everyone thought they had not qualified, but Holland's equaliser would have graced the orange shirt of his namesake.  He drilled a loose ball from 25 yards out past the despairing dive of the keeper.  A Song chest (or was it arm) directed a long cross towards his own goal, but the keeper just prevented it from going over the line, while Keane hit the post with a rasping drive on the turn.

The match ended with Cameroon trying to get back into it, but Ireland having the best of the pressure.  It was interesting to see Ireland without Keane.  I don't think they missed him and had the old Irish spirit going, helped by a large presence among the crowd.  Cameroon looked organised and physically formidable, so they could give Germany a surprise.  Song looked a completely different player to the one who haplessly stumbled his way through his time at Liverpool and West Ham.

Gary Lineker had opened for the Beeb this morning and was joined by Jamie Redknapp for the Germany game.  In between David Pleat was co-commentator for ITV on the Uruguay match.  To be truthful, the match was a little slow in parts and although the ball stayed on the floor, it was bogged down in midfield, while the goal action was strictly limited.

When they did come, they were spectacular.  Gronkjaer roasted his marker down the left wing and pulled the ball low into the six yard box, where it was side-footed in by Tomasson.  It was enough to give the Danes, wearing Hummel (do you remember those shirts ?), a half-time lead.  Sand should have given them that lead previously, but managed to get a diving header from six yards out down into the ground and up, onto and over the bar.  Two minutes into the second half, Dario Rodriguez hit a stunning volley with the outside of his left boot to give the South Americans parity.  Pablo Garcia had juggled the ball when it was cleared from a corner, but managed to control his lobbed pass to allow his colleague to smash home the ball.  It was Tomasson who had the last word, with a header from a left wing cross, that left the Uruguay keeper standing.  The forward has come a long way from looking like a complete waste of money for Newcastle United !!

Dario Silva could become one of the faces to hate over the next week or so.  His bleached blond hair is only the start of it, as he has all the typical niggling ways of a striker from that part of the world and his angelic look at the ref was one which might get very wearing.  As for his team-mate Recoba, he suffered being taken off near the end and although he had done some good work, he did not influence the game the way the Uruguayans hoped he would.  He did produce perhaps the world's all time slowest nutmeg on Laursen and he was (we were informed by Pleat and Drury in the commentary box) one of the players who wears "ballet shoes" !!  The other rather unsavoury item of fashion sense that was pushed down our throat was that Stig Tofting has a tongue stud.  It was at times like these that I wished the red button worked on ITV too !!

The last game of the day showed how big the gap is between some nations and the big boys.  And these big boys needed a play-off to qualify.  Germany strolled to an 8-0 win over Saudi Arabia, with each goal coming without too much resistance from the Middle Eastern side.  Ziege, with his nationalistic Mohawk haircut, was bombing up and down the left flank and made two of the goals.  He also picked up a yellow card for his troubles from the eccentric Paraguayan referee.  Playing under the Sapporo stadium with the roof closed, must have brought Cardiff to mind for the Spurs man, but we all wish the outcome could have been the same for him back then.

Klose scored a hat-trick, in the old fashioned sense of the word, with all three netted with his head.  The others were queuing up to score, but the final whistle beat most of them to it and they had to settle for the third highest score in the World Cup finals history.  Germany have a head start at the top of the group now and it could be a question of how many the other sides can stick past Al Daeyea.

Shirt pulling and the act of "simulation" went unpunished yet again and it will be a feature of the tournament, that the TV cameras will show both players grabbing handfuls of shirt without the ref seeing or giving anything.

Of more concern is the number of empty seats at the matches.  All four so far have had areas of empty seating, with the German match being the worst so far.  They can't all be down to the English ticket touts they keep turning away at airports with 350 tickets each, can it ??

Group A  -  Uruguay 1  Denmark  2

Group E  -  Republic of Ireland  1  Cameroon  1
                    Germany  8  Saudi Arabia  0

INTERESTING FACT : - Miroslav Klose is Polish born.  Patrick Vieira was born in Senegal.  Zinedine Zidane was born in Algeria.  Owen Hargreaves was born in Canada.  It really is a World Cup isn't it ??
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY : -  Why does anyone say "Nil all" ??  Are they big tennis fans covering the World Cup ??
INVENTED WORD OF THE DAY : - Argentinia (Tony Gubba)


2.6.2002     Passed it

My dedication to the World Cup action did not quite stretch to getting up to see the Argentina .v. Nigeria match kick off this morning.  I woke at 7.20 a.m., so managed to see the second half and by all accounts, I hadn't missed much.  On the Five Live commentary, Chris Waddle was reduced to wondering if the franchise for the Mexican Wave had not been bought for this tournament.

The propensity for Nigeria to allow free headers from corners must have been a godsend for Argentina.  Unfortunately, England do not have anyone tall enough in the forward line to capitalise on this failing.  From the way it was going, it didn't look like Argentina did either.  They missed the target on a regular basis, until Batistuta made one count from a difficult angle on the far post.  Batigol was desperate to score, firing fierce free-kicks in, but mainly off target.  At the other end, keeper Cabellero showed that the South American side do have a weak link.

Argentina must have the hairiest team at the World Cup.  Their budget for bootlaces must be sky-high !!  But they do have good support.  Even to the extent of the bloke wearing a black and white cow hide print Stetson and waving a Mexican flag !!

There was an interlude before the main event in Group F.  This involved a match between South Africa and Paraguay in the "Group of S".  What Paraguay are doing in this group, when their name doesn't start with S, I can't imagine.  The first half saw the South Americans take a deserved lead, but it really came alive in the second half, when at 2-0 up, South Africa decided to get back into the match.  Paraguay's Arce hit a pearler of a free-kick for the second to add to Santa Cruz's header, but they tended to sit back a bit on their lead.

They did go forward, but it seemed that the Fevernova ball is not swerving as much as they thought it might, but is lighter and thus, crosses were inevitably over-hit.  A deflected goal (a Paraguayan speciality) gave Bafana Bafana a look-in, but the penalty they were awarded right at the end of the game allowed Quentin Fortune to hit his first international goal for the equaliser.  He ran to the crowd and removed his shirt and didn't even get booked !!

The second half was perhaps the most exciting so far, but would England's efforts surpass it ?? No.  The match was boringly like a Premier League game, perhaps not surprising with all the players on display who regularly face each other in the English league.  The fare that we are accustomed to was evident ... the giving away of the ball, the poor defending, the inaccurate crossing, the effort with no end product.  You know what it's like.

To all Spurs fans' chagrin, England scored, but it was S. Cumball what did it.  Actually, it was the one thing he did right in the game.  His positioning (a long standing fault) was poor, as was his distribution (a long ball every time), while he was dragged out of position too often.  Luckily, Sweden did not have the players to capitalise.  In the first half, England ran the game, but created little to trouble Hedman.  Seaman was a virtual spectator, but his time was to come.

The second half turned the match around, quite literally.  Sweden worked to deny space in the middle of the pitch and England looked bereft of ideas.  They were pushed back and looked like they were happy to take what Sweden could throw forward.  When they did have the chance to break out, Emile Heskey showed that he is pedestrian - in pace and in his mind.  His effort came to nothing and I was surprised that Vassell was taken off, as he at least asked some questions of the Sweden defence, whereas the Liverpool Lummox gave the same old answers we all knew.

Seaman had to be sharp to save three efforts from the Swedes as they pushed on, but he had no chance as Mills hooked the ball away from him, straight to Alexandersson, who rifled it back past him.  Mills and Cole both showed they are a long way from being proficient at this level, and that could be England's downfall.  Mills is brawn over brain (witness his crossing ... behind the goal) and Cole cannot defend at a standard required in such a competition.  It is not just the left side that is the country's Achilles Heel.

The impossibly high bounce from the turf was an oddity.  It brought back the memories of the artificial turf at Loftus Road and made life very interesting for goalkeepers dealing with back-passes.  Perhaps they should have trained with super-balls on tarmac !!

Not being as patriotically biased as some reporters, I managed to move on to the next match without needing to sit through a dissection of the England performance.  In fact, ITV even managed to ignore the second half of the SA .v. Paraguay game, putting it on ITV2, while they built up to the England match.  While not everyone has that channel, I was lucky enough to add another Tottenham appearance, with Clive Allen doing in studio analysis to complement David Pleat on the match commentary.

Slovenia took to the field without our new midfielder Milenko Acimovic.  Having nursed his thigh muscle injury, he wasn't fit for the 90 minutes and sat on the bench as the Spanish faced his national team.

The match started with Slovenia pushing forward and Casillas having to make a good save from his own defender Puyol.  However, the first half was pretty slow and was only enlivened by Raul's predatory finish just before half-time.  I really appreciate the way Raul plays the game and always have.  He reminds me greatly of Emilio Butragueno and has the same knack for scoring, being in the right place at the right time.

When a sublime move in the second half saw Morientes denied by the keeper's foot, it looked like Spain would stroll through.  Even more so when the delightful move that produced a second goal was engineered.  De Pedro's ball from the left, between defence and keeper found Valeron at the far side of the box and he swept the ball home.  It was the best team goal of the tournament so far.

But watching Spain is sometimes like watching Spurs.  They suddenly turn off and then the other side is back in it.  This time, a Spurs player had something to do with it.  Acimovic came on in the 63rd minute and had two shots over the bar (from just outside the box and another from 25 yards). He also seemed to go down under challenge in the area, but the ref waved play on.  Acimovic stayed down and had to be stretchered off holding his shoulder.  Oh, no.  Here we go, I thought, but he was back to play a 1-2 with Cimirotic, who slid the ball home to make that the score too.

Milenko looked like he went to ground quite easily and he only came alive when he had the ball, but then hopefully, that is because he's not 100% fit at the moment.  Just when it looked like the game might be turning the Slovenians way, the ref saw to it that Spain put it out of reach.  Going down under an innocuous challenge, the ref pointed to the spot to award a penalty to the Spanish.  When his country were looking for a hero, when the captain strode up to the spot kick, you knew it would end up in the back of the net.  Hierro had seen his side through their first test and that was the first "first game" they had won for about 70 years in the finals.

It was a bit of a close shave.  Not as close as the after shave got to Canizares' foot pre-tournament that kept him out, but manager Camacho's armpits told the tale of a sweaty second half for the favourites.  Hopefully, he can get some ventilated inserts added before the next match !!

Group B  -   Spain 3  Slovenia  1
                    Paraguay 2  South Africa  2

Group F  -  England  1  Sweden  1
                   Argentina  1  Nigeria  0

INTERESTING FACT : -  Chris Waddle said that 98% of people who talk to him about his penalty miss in the 1990 World Cup semi-final are sympathetic.  The other two percent were morons.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY : -   What possesses people to do the Mexican Wave ??


3.6.2002     Red Alert

With the players and refs being so sensible, it had to come to an end didn't it ?  So in a flurry of red cards, the sending off total started and increased.

The first came in the first half of the Croatia .v. Mexico match with Zivkovic becoming the first recipient of the dreaded red, after pulling down Blanco as he went through.  The Mexican showed that he was in agony, but his face and raised hand showed that he felt that the Croat should get a card.  The ref was persuaded, the white booted South American got up to take the penalty and score and it was virtually game over.  Two strange things occurred to me when the spot kick was taken.  Firstly, why did Pletikosa lean so far to one side of the goal ?  The second was that Cuauhtemoc Blanco looks a bit like Gus Poyet ... who someone has hit on the head with a large hammer !!

Mexico seemed to be sporting shirts designed by Slazenger (unless my eyes deceived me ... which they might have done at that time of the morning) and had a player called Paul Getty according to the commentary.  The pre-requisite of any Mexico match is to show shots of the crowd wearing sombreros, especially when a couple of them catch the producer's eye ... when they are covering a young ladies breasts worn as a bra !!  

The appearance of Chelsea's Mario Stanic as a substitute brought about the worst performance of the tournament so far (even the Saudi keeper had some redeeming moments) and made me wonder what people see in him.

With that match out of the way, it was left for the big boys to take the grand stage.

Brazil entered the competition and with Ronaldo leading the line, the world waited with expectation as to the level of his performance.  He answered it by creating chances, scoring and although not 100% his old self, he showed he could be a handful for any defence.

His run down the left wing to cross for Rivaldo to head down and produce a save from the keeper displayed a trick and his goal after half-time was perfectly executed; wrapping his boot around the ball while he was off the ground just enough to guide it in.  This was the equaliser though, as Hasan Sas found space on the left when put in by Basturk and his injury time shot showed that who dares wins.  Well, at the break anyway.  The goal showed that space can be found behind Cafu on the right, as he is usually marauding upfield rather than paying attention to any defensive duties he is assigned.

In the second half, Brazil decided to show their true face and their players, who look on the big side, passed the ball around nicely.  Like the Mexican sombrero, the Brazilian micro-bikini is a TV producer's favourite.  The other small thing associated with that country is Juninho, who has his chance thanks to Emerson's goalkeeping nightmare that saw him suffer a dislocated shoulder in a training muck-about match.  The former Boro man put in a lot of effort, but he appears too lightweight sometimes to make his true mark on the game.  A bit like Ossie Ardiles, but without the ability to hold players off.

Turkey played to the limits of the laws and then decided to go beyond them. Someone, who on the commentary sounded like Farti, got booked because he was asking the ref to show a yellow card to a Brazilian, while his team-mates managed to conjure up the world's worst free-kick, which nearly went in !!  There were three Turks over the ball, but managed to cock it up and when the ball came to Tugay, his shot got a deflection that went up and brushed the bar on the way over.

Things got a lot worse towards the end, when Rivaldo was dragged down by Villa's Alpay and he got a red card and Brazil got a penalty, even though he was initially fouled outside the box.  The Barcelona player made no mistake from the spot, giving the keeper the eyes as he prepared to take the penalty.  Alpay was lucky to be on the pitch anyway, as he blatantly tripped Ronaldo in the first half, when he would have been away from him.  Only the prospect of a covering defender allowed the ref to give yellow instead.

When a corner was awarded to Brazil in the dying moments of the match, Hakan Unsal (who will play for Blackburn Rovers next season) returned the ball to Rivaldo standing by the corner flag.  The ball was hit at him at pace and got him on the leg, but he went down as though he had been punched in the face !!  The ref brought out a second yellow for Unsal and Turkey defended the dead ball with nine players, just before the whistle blew for the end.

Ronaldinho showed brief flashes of skill, including one shot from distance from a poor clearance by the keeper and another good run, but he couldn't finish past Rustu.  Other than that, you got what you usually get from the yellow and blue stars.  Plenty going forward, none too reliable defending, but everything done with a flourish.  They will have an easier task in their other two group games and will look to progress in terms of their play, before meeting more difficult foes.

Italy got past Ecuador in first gear, settling for Vieri's brace of first half goals.  They tried to get more, but without much conviction and Ecuador huffed and puffed, but were out-classed by Italy without them trying.

The power and strength of the Inter man put Ecuador in the shade and his strikes were a stark reminder that there is still Del Piero to come in on a regular basis.  He did enter the play near the end, but didn't get a chance to show what he is capable of.  Totti made on great pull back from the right to allow Vieri to slam home a side footed shot that nearly ripped the net open.  Like all great strikers (and Ronaldo a few hours before him), he missed a great chance just before sticking his first away without letting it prey on his mind.  His second was a result of the play being switched from his own end to the other in a blink of an eye.  

The Italians showed that movement is essential whoever you are playing.  That allows you options to keep hold of the ball ... something England failed to do.  Clearly Ecuador were chasing shadows most of the game and although they did have a chance or two, they were only there to make up the numbers.  One of whom, Carlos Tenorio, marked his appearance as a sub with a white mark on his forehead.  It was the nearest he got to the spot all match.  SCBC's Chana had a chance to shoot from the edge of the box, but tried to be too clever and the opportunity was spurned.  One of their defenders really packed a punch ... straight into Cannavaro's eye.

As part of the global Kappa family, we should support Italy, as they are more likely than England to get near to the end of the month and still be in the Far East.  Let's hope any success they have in the World Cup rubs off on Tottenham too !!


Group C  -  Brazil  2  Turkey  1

Group G  -   Italy  2  Ecuador  0
                    Croatia  0  Mexico  1

INTERESTING FACT : -  The Sapporro Dome can only sustain four J-League matches a year, because of the cost of stewarding.  The rest of the time it is used as a flea market.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY : -   Why are there so many players at this tournament who used to play for Newcastle United and were crap, but are doing OK here ??
INVENTED WORD OF THE DAY : - Poll-oxed (John Champion, describing Cannavaro being hit in the stomach with the ball)


4.6.2002     Asia Day

The matches today were flavoured with an Eastern blend of the home countries and China taking the field.  

The opening match of the day was a dire one for the majority of the 90 minutes.  The added five minutes were not required, as the first half was one of the worst you could wish to see.  Without a shot on target and with much of the play bogged down in midfield, where the ball changed feet quicker than the camera shots of the crowd.  It's always a dead giveaway that the action isn't that gripping.

There was one moment of magic in the first half, when Haidong gave the ref a thumbs up after a foul and produced a moth from his closed fingers !!  That and Weifeng's kung-fu kick to Fonseca's head, were the only high points of the half.  One of the low points was Manchester City's Sun Jahai's reaction to a foul on him by laying on the floor and mouthing "F*** O**" !!

The second half picked up the pace, but we had to wait until later for some quality improvement.  And it was not the customization of the Costa Rican shirt by Martinez, who manufactured cap sleeves to take it back to the retro days of the late 70's !!  One real moment of class came when Gomez crossed for Wright to head home for the second.  It was also Gomez, who scored and instigated the first, with a clever back-heel and then a  smart finish.

The Chinese showed good skill on the ball, but lacked confidence and movement off the ball when going forward, while Costa Rica were fluid, but they may regret the yellow cards picked up for shirt pulling in this match, as even though they are now top of the group, they might not be there for long.

Japan made their bow against Belgium in the next match, which had much more pace and urgency about it.  Both teams were playing offensively (as our soccer loving chums would call it) and although the first half failed to produce a decent effort on goal apart form Verheyen's header, there was at least so to and fro to the play.  The red head of Toda lit up the Japanese midfield, but his tackles were lucky not to receive a matching card. 

The home crowd were producing the best atmosphere at the World Cup so far, with their array of football head hats and every fan carrying a megaphone (not a really terrific mobile, you understand).  They went deathly quiet though, when Wilmots performed an overhead kick to give Belgium the lead.  But two minutes later, they were elated as Suzuki got on his bike to nip in before the keeper and steer it past him.  

Further joy was ensured when Arsenal reserve Inamoto ran through and stuck his shot past the goalie.  Unconfined celebrations greeted the goal and it looked as though Japan would get their first win in a World Cup finals.  They hadn't banked on a dodgy offside trap and a lob from van der Heyden that put Belgium back on level terms past Narazaki, who looked like a Manga baddie, with his sallow cheeks.

A very good game and Japan a little unlucky to only have a point, but it was their first gained in the finals ever and they will want to build on that in the forthcoming games.

As both sides searched for a winner, Belgium went through a sticky patch where they gave the ball away far too often and Japan went through a spell where they picked up a lot of unnecessary yellow cards.  It could spell Peril for them if they continue to do so.  Miyamoto came on as a sub with a black mask on, looking like a bad movie's bank robber.  Perhaps he was trying to hide his identity as he nearly signed for West Ham last season !!

The atmosphere was matched if not exceeded, by the South Koreans, who had more to celebrate in the end.  Perhaps having a full ground helped in that respect, as well as the Korean being more vocal than the Japanese.  The Poles were the first European qualifier from the groups, but how, on the evidence of this display, I can't tell you.  A solid team with the naturalised Nigerian Olisidebe up front, they have been winning with ease.  It was rumoured that they played deliberately badly in their warm-up game against Romania, because opponents scouts were watching.  Perhaps they didn't play worse than normal.

South Korea did not let their "underdog" status eat away at them.  Their constant energy and enterprise reflects the characteristics of their nation and they paid off against the supposedly better and bigger team.  The Koreans, with great support behind them, shocked Poland with a well taken goal in the first half, when Hwang Sun-hong swept home a volley at the near post, having been left unmarked.  This was no fluke, as they kept Poland away from their goal and on 54 minutes extended their lead with a fine strike from Yoo Sand-chul, which Dudek couldn't keep out.  

I reckon that Poland thought they could out-muscle the Koreans, but although they are small, but strong on the ball.  The yellow card count was the one thing that went in Poland's favour - winning 3-2.  The banner that hung over the balcony of one tier of seating said "Korea Team Fighting".  Well, they didn't need to do too much of that today and left it to the manager to realise the aspirations of another banner that read "Hiddink - Make Our Dream Come True".

Group C  -  China  0  Costa Rica  2

Group D  -   South Korea  2  Poland  0

Group H  -   Japan  2    Belgium  2

INTERESTING FACT : -  Apparently, programmes on Korean TV had been shown to get the fans to learn the songs for supporting their country at the match !!
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY : -   Why are there so many empty seats for a China match ??  I thought they had the biggest population in the world ??


5.6.2002     Seeing Stars

The match of the day was surely going to be the Germany - Republic clash, but the first two opened up in grand fashion.

Russia began by testing the Tunisia keeper with some long shots and he had a good shot back at one of the forwards, by smacking him in the back of the head.  All this done in front of the goal that had a large George Cross hung behind it bearing the word "TOTTENHAM" emblazoned across it.  Russia were guilty of over-doing it on the ball a bit, when in defence, much like Poland and Belgium yesterday and it was from one such instance that Tunisia had their best chance.  With a swift incision through the middle, two Russian defenders almost contrived to knock the ball past Nigmatullin (the Russian Nig Martyn).  They all went about two inches wide of the post.

Tunisia's Jaziri was nippy and liked a dive, but he was a bit indecisive when in good positions sometimes.  The best of the Tunisian play came through midfielder Benachour, whose delightful touch and quick feet made him a tricky customer for the Russians to deal with.  The youngster (only 20) hit a screamer just past the post in the second half, but his side would soon be a goal down.

Keeper Boumnijel (the Tunisian Nijel Martin) gathered a cross and threw the ball out, straight to a man under pressure.  He was robbed and the ball fell in the box to Titov, who struck it firmly across the goal and into the far corner.  The player who had been linked with Spurs is apparently on his way to Bayern Munich and although he was sometimes guilty of giving the ball away too often, he is a tall, imposing presence in midfield and had a very good game.

Within five minutes it was two, when Karpin stuck away a penalty and that was it.  Tunisia looked like their failing to hit the target with sufficient force might cost them dear, as well as their naivety in defence.  However, they were determined to go forward and it was a good match to watch.  Russia look to have enough talent to go to the second stage, but there they could meet the unpredictable Turkey or Costa Rica.  Easier half of the draw, but still ... you never know.

The second match took the honours of the best today.  Who would ever have expected USA to race into a 3-0 lead over a sadly out of touch Portugal side ?  And who would have thought the European side could have come back in it too ? 

With Kasey Keller being displaced by Friedel, there was little Spurs interest in this match, but it turned out to be the game of the tournament so far.  A third minute goal that came about as the Portugal defence was sleeping at a corner saw O'Brien smash the ball in at the far post, after Baia saved McBride's free header.  Shortly after, the keeper chose to punch away a low free-kick into the box and it hit Donovan, before just going too wide to allow Pope to turn it back in.  They didn't have to wait too long though, as Charlton's Jorge Costa played the ball out, but his colleague was tackled and the ball fell to Landon Donovan on the right wing.  His early cross hit Costa's head and went towards goal, where Baia had come out and it slipped between him and the post.

At 2-0, you expected some response from Portugal, but the weary Figo (who was obviously not fit, as he passed up the chance to take a free-kick !) and his uncoordinated team-mates failed to put moves together and were reduced to throwing themselves around to get free-kicks.  In fact, it was the States who went further ahead with a peach of a goal.  Sanneh's rundown the right wing produced a very good cross and it was met by McBride, who had lost his marker too easily and thumped his header home to make it 3-0 after 36 minutes.  And we thought England had played badly !!

There was no doubt that the scoreline was a true reflection of the play and when Portugal hit home a corner from 10 yards just before half-time, you wondered if USA would suffer for their lapse.  They could have done, had Pauleta (a reputed Spurs target, who couldn't hit it) taken his opportunities and the one good chance that came their way fallen to a forward  rather than Jorge Costa, as he tried inelegantly to flick the ball into the net from one yard out while standing with his back to goal ... and failing miserably.

They closed the gap further, when Jeff Agoos shinned a cross past Friedel in the second half, which was a shame for a man who has been waiting four tournaments for his World Cup finals debut.  But he was solid at the back, ably supported by Pope and Mastroeni, never looking in great trouble against a side that has been one of the best in Europe.  They never got to grips with the energetic style of America and they could not even pass their way out of it, as every time they tried, they found a white shirt in the way.

Baia showed he was perhaps better with his feet than with his hands, while players who have done it at the top level before such as Nuno Gomes, Figo, Couto, Rui Costa and Joao Pinto all let themselves and their country down with lacklustre performances.  In stark contrast, all the Americans did themselves proud, with special mention for Donovan and Beasley who ran non-stop to terrorise the Portuguese defence.  The USA now have a real good chance to top the group, as the other games are against South Korea, which might provide their toughest opposition and the route one merchants Poland.

The Ecuadorian ref for this game had his whistle taped to his finger and was quick to blow it, but it wasn't the only thing he had taped, because he got all the decisions correct and even took time out to review some of the challenges on the big screen in the stadium.  Top marks to him for a good performance.

And so onto the final fare for Wednesday.  Our very own Christian Ziege had changed the colour of his Mohawk haircut to match the German kit and his black and white stripe featured more early on than it did later.  He was less involved as the game went on, but that might have been because Ireland were pushing on and he was pushed back.

When Germany took a 18th minute lead, it looked like there would be no way back for Ireland, but in their typically dogged and determined manner, they managed a draw at the death with a late, late Robbie Keane goal.  Klose had risen above Harte to nod home the German goal, adding to his hat-trick in the Saudi Arabia game, but he was unable to repeat the feat although he had other chances.  While Klose looks a good goalscorer, he does go to ground easier than an 8-0 win over Saudi Arabia !!  The best other opportunity fell to Jancker, who ran through and lobbed the ball over Given as he came out, but it went just wide.

Holland had driven in a shot that went a shade past the post and nearly replicated his goal against Cameroon and that was the closest they came to scoring apart form Keane's overhead kick that was muffed.  They then had to wait until the second half, when Duff was defied by a brave block by Kahn, who proved he can by repeating it as Keane raced through the middle.  Unfortunately, the ball fell to a German foot and was cleared.  Robbie Keane didn't give up though and in the end showed Kahn can't save them all, by squeezing one off his hand and the post for a 90th minute equaliser.  It was all the Irish deserved for not admitting defeat.  

There was a funny moment just prior to the goal, when desperate to get the ball back into play, an Irishman (Gary Breen perhaps ?) rushed to retrieve the ball and crashed into the dug out !!

Keane's goal looked to me like Lineker's against Germany in the 1990 World Cup semi and I can't help think that he would be a good buy for Tottenham.  He's obviously not the same type of player that Lineker was, but will score and make goals too.  Holland also had a good game in midfield, prompting and getting stuck in.

Germany seemingly lacked the ambition to go on from their one goal lead and in the end paid the price.  Few outfield players were worth mentioning, while Kahn will vent his spleen on the defenders in front of him for allowing the breach in the last minute.


Group D  -   USA  3  Portugal  2

Group  E  -  Germany  1  Republic of Ireland  1

Group H  -   Russia  2    Tunisia  0

INTERESTING FACT : -  With every team having played at least one match, there is yet to be a 0-0 draw.

1)    What did Ron Atkinson mean when he said that Gary Breen had seen a few "Carsten Janckers " ??  Is it some sort of rhyming slang ??

2)    What was the paperback at Bobby Robson's feet during ITV's coverage today ??


6.6.2002     Kickin'

Back to work after a few days off either side of the Bank Holidays and I was missing the action very early on and missing a good kicking match.  Listening to the radio on the way in to work, they were extolling the virtues of a new style of kick and rush, where you try to maim a player with your feet and then dash off !!  Only to be replaced by a number of your colleagues who then face off with the opposition.  A bit like Ice Hockey on grass !!

Still, there was some football played and the movement of the Senegal side in the second half showed that there is more to their game than beating France.  Going behind to a reckless challenge that conceded a penalty that conceded a goal made Denmark hot favourites to take the points, but the African side battled back and their goal was a fine team goal.  Starting at the back, they passed the ball through midfield (please take note England) and then Diao made a good run to finish the move off.  

It is no doubt this sort of action that has attracted Liverpool to bring him to England, but not the foul that gave away the penalty nor the potentially leg-breaking challenge he perpetrated and earned him a red card.  With a point needed from their last game, it will now have to be earned without him.

Denmark looked hard done by, when a good Tomasson goal was ruled out for handball.  Only on the behind the goal camera angle did it show that there was no hand used.  By all accounts, the game suited Denmark, but they did play on Diao, by trying to wind him up.  "Niggly" was one word used to describe it; "The most violent game of the World Cup" was a phrase that I heard.

Whatever the pros and cons of that match, Cameroon's encounter with Saudi Arabia failed to live up to expectations.  The rout that Germany inflicted was not going to be repeated, with the Middle Eastern side shutting up shop and making it hard for the Indomitable Lions to break through.  It took 65 minutes for Samuel Eto'o to breach their defence and he took the goal well, unlike a previous effort that went sky high from the edge of the box. 

The result knocked the Saudis out of the World Cup and their ageing side was never going to progress, but they had pride to play for and some was restored today.

Finally today, came Uruguay's match with France (minus Zidane).  They certainly missed their play-maker and the game did see chances created, but none taken in the first 0-0 of the tournament.  Petit hit the woodwork and Cabrini denied the French when they did get forward, but these forays were curtailed after 26 minutes.  That was when Thierry Henry decided to go in late and studs up on a Uruguay defender.  The red card should have been no surprise to him, as he's seen it all before (even if Wenger hasn't). 

Abreu, Recoba and Magallanes all had chances for the South American side, but either Barthez was equal to them or they missed the target.  They perhaps should have been playing the second half against nine men, when Petit elbowed a light-blue shirted player in the head, but escaped with a booking, but that will make him miss the next match along with his Arsenal colleague.

A scoreless match left France needing to beat Denmark by two clear goals in their final group game.  On this showing they couldn't manage it, but there will no doubt be a renewed sense of purpose when they turn out next week.  It would be nice to see them get knocked out at the first hurdle, if for nothing more than to wipe the smug smiles off the faces of Lebeouf and Petit that we have had to put up with for four years. ("Because I won the World Cup" indeed !!).

Tomorrow, I'm taking the day off work to see the day's action.  That usually results in a dreadful England performance, but surely they cannot sink any lower ?  Or are they famous last words ??


Group A  -   Senegal  1   Denmark   1
                     France  0   Uruguay  0

Group  E  -  Saudi Arabia  0  Cameroon  1

INTERESTING FACT : -  Hernan Crespo was born in Florida, USA.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY : -  What will be the point of taking Teddy Sheringham to the World Cup, if SGE doesn't use him ??


7.6.2002     Surprise, Surprise

The first game up was a very entertaining affair.  A bit slow to start, but then once it got going, there was a lot of action.

Sweden started quick off the mark and then had the blow of going a goal behind to Agahowa's header slanted across Hedman as he came, but didn't make it, for the cross.  There was a bit of toing and froing, but Sweden hit back when Larsson slipped a toe-punt past the keeper after a neat run through the middle of three defenders.  The came one of the most farcical moments  of the World Cup so far.  Okocha went on a  mazy run across the face of the Sweden box, played a one-two and got it back on the left side of the area.  He pulled his shot across the goalie and it was going in at the far post, but  Lucic was there to clear away.  Unfortunately, he didn't see the giant Mjallby standing next to him and the ball cannoned off him onto the post and luckily for Sweden away from goal.  It looked like Nigeria's luck was out.

That was true even more so in the second half, when they hit the post, had another cleared off the line and had to play for about ten minutes without Taribo West, who underwent M*A*S*H style surgery behind the goal for a cut above his eye.  Even when he was ready to come back on, the referee demanded he had his head swathed in bandage.  Weirdly, as soon as he re-entered play a poor goal-kick left Sweden in on goal, Larsson being set up and he was pulled back about 7 yards out.  He got up to slot the penalty home and then West had to change his shirt, as the ref objected to the blood splattered all over it.

Nigeria pressed forward and Yobo came closest when his 20 yard shot bounced back off the post, but the Swedes stood firm and the Super Eagles could not break them down.  One last delicate chip from Kanu was not high enough to beat Hedman, so Nigeria went out.  They did show some neat play in this match after their disappointing opener, but there was too much sloppy passing and they were weak in the centre of defence, where they were opened up often.

Sweden were no great shakes.  Larsson missed the easiest chance that came his way when he was clean through on goal and dallied, losing the chance to shoot.  Their defence looks vulnerable, as Hedman is iffy on crosses and there seems to be a lack of cohesion in the back four's play.  Their midfield is run by Ljungberg and upfront, Larsson is their best hope of a goal.  They will probably progress from this group, but their action after that will be limited (depending on their opponents).

Spain have always flattered to deceive in the World Cup, but would this be their year after winning their first match ?  There seemed little chance of that when the shot by Arce was fisted out by Casillas, hitting the defender Puyol on his way back to his own goal and the ball beat him to it.  Spain struggled to get back into the game, but Paraguay's closing down kept them at bay.  Raul's movement off the ball is a delight and he really is a top class striker.  Another player who took Graham Taylor's eye was Rowell, who he mentioned a lot during his expert analysis.

In their peach colour kit, it looked like Paraguay were not going to be squeezed, especially when Cardoso gave a marvellous display of whistling ... better even than the referee, who kept his to a minimum.  Chilavert was keen to make his prophecies of two goal-scoring free-kicks come true and moved up to take one from 30 yards, which made Casillas dive to save and Santa Cruz baulk him to stop a break before Chilavert had recovered his ground.

The Spanish looked a bit unhappy, but Morientes coming on and Helguera firming up the deep lying midfield area, things started to look up.  Morientes headed home De Pedro's 52nd minute corner and left the Paraguay's defence standing.  On 68 minutes, a cross in from the left by the same provider saw Morientes knock the ball in as it evaded the defence.  Chilavert indicated to the ref that the Spaniard had used his hand, which is more than he did !!  The size of him, I am surprised that Chilavert can get off the ground.

As Spain took the game to Paraguay, the third goal looked inevitable.  It came when Raul was bundled over and Hierro stepped up to put the spot kick wide of Chilavert (some feat), but find the net.

The Spanish seem to lack confidence in their own ability, but this side has lots of talent and could go a long way.  Their movement is excellent and although they faced a technically proficient side in Paraguay, who took the lead, they can still out-play most teams on their day.  Always good to watch, I hope they can fulfill some of their promise.

So to the main course and it was another of these Word Cup surprises that have been happening this tournament.  With a battling performance, it wasn't always pretty, but the result was all in the end today.

A penalty for a foul on Owen a minute before half-time (similar to last time the two teams met in the World Cup) saw England take the points with Beckham smacking the ball right down the middle of the goal.  Despite Batistuta and Pochettino both trying to take lumps out of England's players, the team managed to keep their tempers, except Ashley Cole, who got booked.

The England defence was being pulled around and Ferdinand and Campbell were often out of position, but they managed to rectify this after the break.  The best chance came when Michael Owen ran at the Argie defence and hit a shot between Samuel's legs, but was shocked to see it bounce back into play from the post.  The side also lacked pace going forward in the first half and were forced to turn and wait for players to catch up.  This was not helped when Owen fell on Hargreaves' leg and pout him out of the game after about 15 minutes.  However, the second half started with England creating more chances.  Owen twice went close, while volleys from Scholes and Sheringham (on as a sub), forced Cavellero to punch away their dangerous shots.  Teddy's effort came after a long series of passes from the defence to the front without Argentina getting near the ball.

John Motson was getting so carried away, he thought Andy Cole was playing at left back and the whole of the defence had to be on their toes, as Argentina pushed forward and England had their backs to the wall (at least they could be hacked down in that position).  Drafted in for Vassell, Nicky Butt played a very good game and Rio Ferdinand showed why Leeds United paid so much for him (up until now I couldn't see the fuss about him).  

Every player put in the effort that was needed to keep Argentina from scoring.  Seaman only had to make one save of note, but that was from a Pochettino header and it was well made.  Aimar tried to get some shots in, but they were mostly over the bar and his aimer was obviously off target.  There was too much stress on trying to wind up the English players rather than concentrating on their own game.  The gamesmanship of trying to shake Beckham's hand before the penalty and the keeper giving him the verbals, only showed that England was capable of winning without cheating.  May the world see Argentina for the side they are.  Having to beat Sweden now to get through, they might resort to even more unnecessary tactics.

The win keeps England's hopes alive for another five days, when they meet Nigeria.  Another performance of this nature would see them through.


Group  B  -  Spain  3  Paraguay  1

Group F  -   England  1  Argentina   0
                    Sweden  2   Nigeria  1

INTERESTING FACT : -  Prior to today, England had not beaten Argentina in the World Cup since 1966.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY : -   Why don't more teams have shirts in pastel colours like Paraguay ??  Maybe they are too fruity for some sides.


8.6.2002     Robbery, Slaughter and Boredom

With the game of the day being the Brazil v China encounter, it was a shock that Croatia beat Italy.  What wasn't a shock was that Graham Poll was the ref who disallowed two legitimate goals for the Italians !!

Getting up early to watch the World Cup is not a chore.  Especially when you are treated to a snooze fest like South Africa v Slovenia.  It was surprising that Zlatko Zahovic didn't want to be here for this match that induced so many Z's that he would have felt more at home than back in Slovenia !!

Our man in Slovenia started well and plonked a free-kick form the right straight onto his centre half's head, but he managed to put it over.  Immediately, SA broke and another Spurs man, former youth star Quentin Fortune, crossed for Novmethe to try and head home. Try because he actually missed with his head, but got his thigh to it.  His luck turned though, as he was hit "amidships" (as the commentators said, by a ball rising up off a tackle (and into his).

There was a graphic illustration of what hard work can achieve over the last two days.  England didn't stop running and got a deserved victory over Argentina.  These two sides didn't start and got what they deserved too, although South Africa nearly lost it at the end when sub Ceh had a header well saved by Adrense.  Agreed it was very hot, but neither side looked like they were going to put in anything more than the minimum effort they had to.

One man who did, Slovenia manager Srecko Katanec got banished to the stands for abusing the fourth official, something which Graham Taylor said he could see coming.  No surprise after his "Do I not like that" tirade in Rotterdam !!  Having lost the star player Zahovic and then to lose their manager was careless.  The defenders caught the mood by being very slow on the ball and carried on giving the ball away.

With Acimovic coming to WHL next season, my interest the match revolved around what he did.  He hit a 25 yard shot just over the angle; slipped a nice reverse ball down the line for an over-lapping colleague and had a little run that ended with him going down under challenge.  It is something that he does a little too readily and that will not be popular if he does it in the Premiership.  He doesn't so much simulate as exaggerate.  He didn't seem to relish the side of the game and looked back as players ran away from him.

The ref must be a bit of a busy boy back in Argentina, as he booked a Slovenian for staying down when injured.  He was also keen to book Pavlin, who looked like an emaciated Ginola.  

There was a little excitement when McCarthy hit the bar with a header, while Buckley hit a shot wide when well placed in injury time at the end.  Neither side will be proud, but South Africa's first ever win in the finals looks like it might take them through, but they will need to play above themselves if they are to go any further.

So, Italy were expected to stroll past Croatia, who had been so disappointing in their first game.  And to start off with, it looked like the Italy team were thinking the same.  The Croats started very well and with a flowing move from 25 yards out, saw Rapaic and Vujovic combine to provide a chance in the box and then Boksic nearly got to the ball before Materazzi on the line.  At the same end in the second half, Vieri had a goal chalked off for offside, when he was behind the ball when it was played and a later effort by sub Inghazi in injury tine at the end disallowed for a tug on the defender, when everyone thought it had been given as offside.  But by then the scoring had been done.  Vieri had risen to produce a towering header past Pletikosa, who later reacted well to save from a shot by Zambrotta.

Croatia had been dominating for long periods, but had not produced a decent finish until Jarni broke down the left and put his cross low into the corridor of uncertainty.  However, Olic was certain that the ball would arrive there and dinked it over the diving Buffon for the equaliser.  That was nearly added to when Boksic took advantage of a collision between two defenders and crossed, but Rapaic just missed the waist high ball.  He didn't have to wait long, as he latched onto a header into the area and with Matarazzi challenging, spun a shot away that looped slowly over the keeper.

Italy had two subs warming up for an eternity, but neither of them came on ... they must have been knackered !!  Inzaghi did, but it was Totti who came closest to restoring parity with a free kick from 25 yards that hit the inside of the post and went across the face of goal and away to the touchline.  Luckily, Pletikosa's reflexes were not so sharp, as he threw up a hand as the ball went behind him and any quicker and he might have knocked it in !!  The win throws the group wide open and Mexico can go through if they beat Ecuador tomorrow, leaving Croatia and Italy to win their last games to get second place.

Sadly, China's first World Cup finals does not have that hope left going into their last match.  Brazil's easy 4-0 win ended the progress of the newcomers, but it was a stroll for the yellow and blues.  In fact, they took their foot off the pedal, sparing their opponents the humiliation that they could have inflicted.

Roberto Carlos pulled out a trademark free-kick to start the rout, which nearly ripped a hole in the net.  Ronaldo crossed for Rivaldo to score from close in and was then pulled down by the defender for a penalty a minute before the break.  He was a real handful for the Chinese back line and that was particularly true of his shirt for the penalty.  Ronaldinho slotted it away comfortably.

After the break, Cafu chested a cross field pass down, went past his man and crossed low for Ronaldo to get his goal before going off for a rest.  his pace over the last ten yards to get to the ball was electrifying and the Chinese just hadn't read his move.

The Brazilians brought on Denilson to perform his tricks.  Others did step-overs and juggling, while the Chinese did perpetrate a few nice turns of their own.  When Junzhe hit the post, the nation held it's breath and you could feel the breeze caused by that.  Marcus was also called upon to turn a shot around the post, so he did well to keep his concentration up.  Most entertaining was the comedy trombone that someone kept playing in the crowd.  Every time something happened there would be a pheewr-phew-whup, like a sound effect from a 1970's comedy show !!

There was a real gap in the ability of the two sides and although China are an emerging nation in terms of football, there is a long way to go.  Their last match against Turkey will be one with only pride to play for and they might go home without a point, but they should take the experience and build on it for four years time.  And David Pleat said he liked the look of the China right back.  Coming to a ground near you ??


Group  B  -  Slovenia  0  South Africa  1

Group C   -   Brazil  4  China   0

Group G   -    Italy  1   Croatia  2

INTERESTING FACT : -  12 of the 20 stadia used for this competition will not be specifically designated for teams to use in the national J and K leagues.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY : -   How comes the Chinese have got the tallest player in the competition at 1.95m ??


9.6.2002     First things first

Am I dedicated or just plain daft to get up at 7.30 a.m. to watch Ecuador v Mexico ?  The game was poor and it only dawned on Ecuador that they might get something out of the game in the last twenty minutes or so.  That was after taking a four minute lead with their country's first ever goal in the finals of the tournament.  SCBC's striker Delgado rose to head home a cross and showed the world what he can do. Sadly, SCBC fans won't see it any more, because he says he will never return to the New Dell to play for them.  Perhaps they will see the ability he has when they get into Europe and face him at some time in the future ?

Mexico responded with a good move between Arellano and a couple of one-twos, but he shot wide at the end of it.  They got their equaliser in the 28th minute, when Moreno's left wing cross was volleyed home across the keeper by Borgetti.  It had been coming as Ecuador had sat back hoping to hold onto their lead, while Mexico's moves broke down on the edge of the box.

More of the same followed in the second half, but Torrado played a one-two with Rodriguez and hit a screamer from 30 yards that the goalie should have done better with.  They pushed on to try and increase their goal difference, but had four or five opportunities that all missed the target.  Meanwhile, their opponents had brought on Tenorio, who was a pacy winger, but they failed to use him enough after he had showed how quick he was by leaving three Mexicans in his wake in a run from the halfway line.  Only Ayori's shot near the end, when his bent shot narrowly missed the target, threatened to gain the South Americans a point, but Mexico now lead the group with six points and are favourites to go through, while Ecuador will have to put it down to experience.  Having got to the finals, it is a shame they have not shown the world what they are capable of.

Suspension hit Turkey had to face a Costa Rica side who were at the top of their group table with Brazil.  Very little of note occurred in the first half, apart form a Wanchope shot on the turn over the bar and a break into the box by Centeno, who should have made the keeper work rather than batter his shot well over.  Costa Rica had the better of the play with Turkey looking out of sorts and not threatening at all.

The second half was more lively with chances at both ends.  Gomez manufactured himself some space on the edge of the box and then proceeded to hit his shot over the crossbar, something replicated by a Sukur shot at the other end.  When it looked like Turkey were losing their imagination, Emre broke into the box and followed up his own blocked shot, sliding the ball slowly home at the second attempt.

As time seemed to be running out for CR, a long free-kick five minutes from time was nodded down by Wanchope, Medford dragged it back and the ball ran across the six-yard box to the unmarked Winston Parks, who drove home from close range.  The Turks were more interested in dragging players to the ground to mark the man at the far post and he had time to smash the ball in.

But then the action really started.  Emre ran to get the ball from a Costa Rica coach and pushed him into the dug out structure, causing a mass brawl in front of the fourth official and the situation was resolved with a yellow card for the Turkish instigator.  In the final minute, both countries could have won it.  Arif was fed a high ball in the box and sliced the dropping ball into the keeper's arms, before play switched straight to the other end, where Parks rounded the keeper when through, but then, with the goal gaping, missed the target.

The game only livened up in the second period, but there was some good flowing football from Costa Rica, who play in a languid style and although they might not have the experience or physical attributes needed to go al the way, they do like to get the ball down and knock it around.  Turkey on the other hand showed off their nasty side here.  Hasan Sas aside, they looked out of sorts and brought out their temperamental face when the win seemed to be denied them.  Shame as they could have been a dark horse, but look more like a dark cloud over the competition now.

The atmosphere in the biggest crowd of the tournament so far, was electric with Japanese fans creating as much of noise energy as the players put in on it.  They ran themselves into the ground from first to final whistle and that threw Russia out of their stride.  No time to settle on the ball and every time they looked up there was a blue shirt in front of them, the Europeans found it difficult to string any moves together.  They had the first opportunity with Izmailov shooting just wide of the angle, with an effort on the turn, but there were few shots on target during the first half.

Hidetoshi Nakata hit a chance over instead of getting the keeper to make a save, while he struck another free-kick over too.  Arsenal reserve Inamoto had a clear header, but it went sideways instead of forwards. Russia did put a good move in just before half-time, when Titov and Solamtin linked on the right, putting in a low cross, which was cleared by Toda for a corner. The home nation were fortunate that the wrestling foul on a Russian forward by Toda was missed by the officials.

During the break, David O'Deary told the BBC audience that he thought that the Japanese side was young and vibrant and he liked them for that.  Yeah, those Japanese are just babies aren't they David ?  His comments were only superceded by Barry Davies' commentary where he kept referring to Russian striker Sytchev as "Sytchkov".  Maybe he is missing the Bulgarians in this World Cup.

The second half saw Russia struggling to play passes to each other and Titov, who had run their first match was way off the pace here and looked to have lost his passing ability in the intervening four days.  Inamoto gave his country their first win in the finals of the competition, by breaking through, taking a neat lay-off from Yanagisawa and hitting his shot high into the net past Nigamatullin.  Parma's Nakata hit a 30 yarder against the bar and that was the closest to another goal in the match.  Russia could have come closer, but having rounded the keeper, sub Beschastnykh copied the shot of Parks earlier and missed the target, hitting the side netting.

Japan's approach was refreshing and their energy and verve was good to see, but you have to ask how that will see them through against a class side.  The manager Troussier enjoyed his moment of history, but he might have to firm up their midfield if they are to repel their second round opponents.


Group  C  -  Turkey  1  Costa Rica  1

Group G   -   Ecuador  1   Mexico   2

Group H   -    Japan  1    Russia  0

INTERESTING FACT : -  Turkey have scored in every game they have played in World Cup finals tournaments.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY : -   Why is that players who appear in ads, always have a poor World Cup (c.f. Henry in Renault ad) ??

    10.6.2002 - 21.6.2002 
22.6.2002 - 30.6.2002

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