Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Hurricane Blows Out

It seems unfair to record that Alex Hurricane Higgins appears to have passed away in his sleep. If ever there was a man who required a blaze of glory for his final moments it was Higgins. A quiet end doesn't seem to fit.

The tributes have poured in for the unhinged Ulsterman since he died at the weekend. Very few of his colleagues can have had any feelings of comradeship for a man whose career petered out in a whirl of excuses and blame for everyone else and apparently very little acknowledgement of his own frailties. Even as cancer treatment turned his teeth to powder and his tiny frame resembled nothing so much as a cue-wielding Gollum, he was still suggesting a comeback was on the cards.

What his fellow pros cannot deny of course is that before the Hurricane, snooker was sedate, sleepy and seldom watched. The first World final Higgins won was by 37-32. It wasn't so much a sporting showpiece as a feat of endurance (for the audience especially).

Alex wasn't called the Hurricane for nothing. People'll tell you it's cos of the miraculous pace of his play, but I think it's because after he'd passed through Snooker Town a lot of genteel cosy types had to put all the furniture back and rebuild the game with him at the forefront of their minds.

When I first picked up a cue in a snooker hall, and somehow found my way through the half-midday hum of beer and fug of fags to the top of a table, I wasn't reckoning on myself being Ray Reardon. I couldn't see me as middle-aged, methodical, relaxed. Nah, I wanted to be a twitchy little firecracker freak, scuttling around the table like I was doing the 20km walk in double-quick time, lining up shots like Shere Khan on the pounce, following through like I was running a cutlass through some salty sea dog.

And more than that, making a white ball behave like the tip of my cue had its soul at its mercy. They can all do it now, fizz it off the top cush, screw it back so hard that the thing flies up the table like a scalded cat. But until Higgins it wasn't seen.

The oft-quoted break against Jimmy White in '82 is still the best 69 I've ever seen -maybe I should get out more. He was so much agaiinst the wall, he was almost through it. The Whirlwind, a monosyllabic genius with all Higgins's brilliance and most of his human weaknesses was in position to don his mentor's fedora and stride off into the snooker sunset. One mistake and the Hurricane was nowt but a nostalgic breeze.

And yet Higgins mustered shot after shot of unparalleled magnificence. Think the Nadal-Federer final two years ago. It was like that. Never was the cue-ball at his mercy when I think about it. He was always willing it to do his bidding against its better judgement.

It was as if Butch and Sundance had escaped after that still-frame at the end of the movie. As if the Titanic had swerved left and slipped the iceberg. As if Frank Lampard's goal against Germany had stood and our boys had rescued triumph from utter indignity. (I include that to give our younger reader a sense of how it felt).

Of course Higgins had by then styled himself as the People's Champion, which was audacious but just about merited when you considered the dour buggers grinding away like overladen freighttrains all around him: Griffiths, Charlton, Reardon; and Thorburn, who beat him a few years before in the World final and was the utter flipside of Higgins: slow, inevitable, sleep-inducing; snooker morphine.

Of course the People saw what they loved in their champion, complete with 1982's award ceremony that saw Alex with a trophy in one arm and a baby in the other, like the sportsman who had it all. (It may well be that he inspired other nefarious characters to offset their public personas with images of perfect Dad-dom. Think Wisey, or JT, getting their chavved-up selves draped in kids on Cup Final day... are you coughing up a bit of last night's lager and beer nuts too?)

He was lovable. Why even his hot temper, his nap hand of addictions and his colourful late-night antics were all part of the charm. He was George Best in a waistcoat.

Truth is Higgins nutted and punched his way through a few officials, smashed a couple of urine samples along the way and probably a few tormented a number of lasses along the way. The notorious tirade at Dennis Taylor after a UK Championship defeat, when he threatened to get one of the least intimidating people on God's green earth shot if he went back to Ulster, must go down as one of his lowest professional moments. I mean that's like pointing a pop-gun into the eye of a kitten.

And yet there are hundreds of instances of gestures of kindness too. Although these grew less frequent as he got older and iller. Like Geri Halliwell he could barely hold a note (without losing it on the back of some lame nag or other) and in later years was sustained by the hand-outs of ex-colleagues and forgiving friends.

His story does look worryingly like the tale of a death foretold when you glance over at, say, one Paul Gascoigne - a similarly gaunt, delusional addict, talent oozing from his pores and bats flying round his belfry.

His track record would not suggest he was on a par with any of the true greats of the game - Davis, Hendry, O'Sullivan - and yet there has never been a cue-wielder that quite lit up a living room like Higgins.

They'll always tell you that snooker's rise was linked with the arrival of the colour telly but I reckon that when the Hurricane was on the box the rest of them still looked like they were playing in black and white.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Kopping the Love

Steven Gerrard is staying at Liverpool. Again.

This creature is called the Red-Knobbed Starfish. Say No More

There’s two ways of looking at this. One: every so often he needs a bit of a wage hike or a bit of kiss-ass so the rumours do the rounds and Koppites everywhere gather in clusters around flaming bins lobbing lucky charms into the flames in the hope that the sainted lad won’t take his falling starfish routines to another home.

Two: Gerrard really is physically unable to sever his ties to Liverpool and will always remain there so long as he’s wanted.

And maybe there’s a third. I’m not sure the England captaincy sat comfortably on his slender scally shoulders in the summer. All right he was one of England’s better players but that’s a bit like saying that on a plate of well dodgy seafood he was the open mussel that left you feeling the least sick.

And there’s been whispers coming out in cyberspace – we’ve all heard ‘em – about liaisons with less than appropriate partners and the consequences of such entanglements. None of that has been proved of course so I’ll go no further.

However, whilst Gerrard’s loyalty is admirable on one level, I look at him as a player who could really do with a couple of seasons mixing it with technically gifted and nimble footballers. The Liverpool side has been built around him for years and he’s struggled to adapt with the national team when that isn’t the case.

Frankly Unfat Frank has struggled too out of his Chelsea Armchair, and it’s fair to say that Capello’s insistence on finding a place for both of them in the England line-up by employing neither of them in a position they enjoy has been one of his more perverse decisions.

But I think when push comes to shove, Gerrard has bottled it. The Kop make him too comfy. Let’s face it the bloke turned a leaden eleven into Cup Winners twice over in 2005-6, so the bronze Stevie G statue is virtually in the mould already just waiting for his retirement.

Last season he did nowt, and still not a word of complaint from the faithful. I think he needs to be braver. I’d love to see him winning over a new set of fans at the Bernabeu. Above all it would make him a far better player.

Of course the news that he’s staying has given a Viagra-fuelled swell to Merseyside optimism. That and the arrival of the Artful Dodger on a free transfer. That’s 90 grand a week free. An injury-free Joe Cole might justify that but you could say the same about a fit and flying Fernando were it not that his muscles tweak with the regularity of a Murali doosra.

'Si, I score a goal! Now can you carry me to side of pitch. I hurt my leg.'

Personally I think cashing in on the frail flower that is Torres and giving Hodgson a bundle of cash to purchase three hardy perennials in his place might give ‘Pool more chance. Nando’s twanging sinews might have been a bit less stretched had Benitez had another striker with a bit more than going for him that Honest Dirk, Forgawd’ssake Ngog and the petulant gossip that is Babel. Jovanovic should help.

And here’s where I’d share a little of the optimism – Liverpool have employed a realist to manage the team. Hodgson won’t be raking through dossiers or playing one up front at Bloomfield Road or taking himself to the naughty step till someone comes over to find out what’s up.

There’s other good signs. Liverpool have hilariously acquired five million quid for the sale of Emiliano Insua. Which is like finally kicking some layabout lodger off the sofabed in the front room and finding a cache of gold bullion under the pillows.
Philipp Degen has been told he can leave. I think he’s been told that by about 45,000Scousers every time he’s taken to the field so it’s nice to think that the management are catching on.

The only other imponderable is Mascherano who seems to conduct a lot of his negotiations via any rag you care to mention. I mean he’s been linked to so many places there’s positively a chain gang of Champions League clubs tugging at his cloggery ankles.

If only Waldorf and Stadler can find that elusive Arab cashpoint in the Emirates somewhere then all may well be rosy.

The reason 5th is still looking the most likely outcome form the upcoming season is that Spurs should maintain their position and Man City continue to cough up ridiculous sums of wonga for just about anyone who’s available.

Whether Mancini’s able to shape the mercenaries into a bunch of Wild Geese capable of stringing together a decent set of results is open to question. Certainly this Mourinho Lite of a manager is top of the list of likely casualties during next season.

Arrgh. Must've typed in Roberto Mankini.

I imagine the Citeh board are already looking at the fixture list to see when’s the best time to fly in the next candidate: from November 13th they’ve got a nice little run of potentially cushy matches so that’s where my money’d be.

But any road, Gerrard won’t skipping into the sky blue stable. He’ll be leading from the front in Mersey red, same as he ever was.

I suppose in this day and age it’s good to see a one-club footballer sticking to those that have always supported him. I just wonder whether, cos of emotional ties or professional fear, he’s ever had the nuts to see what it might be like away from the eternal adoration that comes from the Kop.

Monday, 19 July 2010


From Guest West London Blogger The Shepherds Mush

They were supposed to have taken the World Cup by storm, but in the final reckoning, Messi, Ronaldo and Rooney were upstaged by an octopus called Paul.

Another spineless World Cup performance

While much of the football in South Africa was a load of old tentacles, Small Paul (that’s his DJ name) rose from nowhere to topple the vuvuzela as the undisputed star of the tournament.

With eight out of eight predictions correct (one for each leg) he bowed out of the World Cup undefeated – a record shared only by the mighty New Zealand – and what’s more, Paul’s exploits are said to have attracted the attentions of more than a few OOHs (that’s Octopi’s Other Halves to you and I).

My mate foolishly backed against him for the final and had a few squid on the Dutch cloggers, who single-handedly - and double-footedly – ensured the World Cup final was more big game-hunt than big game. Agent Orange? There wasn’t a gent amongst them.

Anyway, back to the octopus. The Weymouth exile living in Germany, has officially retired from his role of pulling mussels from flag-covered boxes, and is going back to the simple life of catching a few waves and hanging out with plankton – which was pretty much the story of Stephen Warnock’s World Cup.

Which brings us nicely to England – from golden generation to golden shower in the space of four dismal games.

Like Steve Harmison’s opening delivery in the 2006/07 Ashes, the moment Rob Green decided to throw the ball into the net against the U-S-A you knew (to borrow a phrase from Dad’s Army) we were all doomed.

If Green was Private Frazer, then Capello was Captain Mainwaring, employing his tried-and-tested carrot-stick approach (minus the carrot) but ultimately coming across as a bumbling buffoon.

Of course, the Italian was keen to retain his position as Top Don in order to trouser another few million – sorry, to put right his mistakes – although his plans have been thrown into turmoil by the devastating news that Emile Heskey has retired from international football (some thought he’d retired before the tournament started).

As for the Boy Wonder, he went missing for longer than Raoul Moat – and sadly there was no Gazza arriving on his white charger with chicken and lager to bail him out.

Sir Alex Ferguson put Rooney’s no-show down to tiredness. That’s the same Fergie who flogged Rooney through a 44-game season before tossing his crumpled carcass back to Capello.

Then there was Frank Lampard’s ‘goal’ against Germany, where the ball couldn’t have been further behind the line had he sent it via courier marked ‘back of the net’.

Thankfully, in times of trouble you can always rely on the French to put a smile on your face. Evra and the boys were in such a strop that when they threw the toys out of the pram, pillows, sheets and baby followed swiftly after.

Italy joined France on the first plane home and for a while it looked as if Spain might join them as they crashed to a shock opening defeat at the hands of the Swiss.

The over-emotional Iker Casillas was met by his TV presenter girlfriend immediately afterwards and rather than console him, she simply said, live on air: “How did you manage to muck that up?” No wonder he always seems to be crying.

The soundtrack to the World Cup was, of course, those dastardly vuvuzelas.

Rumour has it Happy Mondays legend Bez was trying to watch the opening game at his local, when his mate asked if he was OK.

“Buzzin’ man!” came the reply.

“Top,” said his mate.

“No,” screamed Bez: “Stop that fookin buzzin’, man!”

"I can't even say vuzoo-fookin-vela"

The English fans did their best to make their feelings known in the match with Algeria, but the chant of “You can stick your vuvuzelas up your arse!” was sadly drowned out by…well, take a wild guess.

The first game between South Africa and Mexico finished 1-1 – just like the first game at every World Cup. When the side from Central America had a goal ruled out, coach Javier Aguirre turned into Kevin the Teenager on the touchline in what was officially the tournament’s first Mexican rave.

Aside from the vuvuzela and the octopus, the other big talking point was of course the ‘roundest ever’ Jabberwocky ball, which was brought in to create more goals, yet resulted in the lowest-scoring tournament of the 32-team era. Because no-one could control the bloody thing.

No-one, that is, except the Germans, who had been playing with it for a year because the Bundesliga had the right sponsors.

Incidentally, how come every time the Germans were scoring goals for fun they were described as ‘ruthless’, ‘efficient’ and ‘typical’ - yet when Spain ground out 1-0 win after 1-0 win (all right, they can pass a bit) it was ‘fantastic’, ‘mesmerising’ and ‘unbelievable’?

Returning to the Jabberwotsit and England’s biggest mistake was clearly not picking Darren Bent – the only player we had who knows how to get the best out of a beach ball.

"I'm like well good with floaty balls."

And so as we prepare ourselves for the new Premier League season, where chants of ‘You let your country down’ will ring around stadiums across the land and Rooney effigies will swing from lampposts until he redeems himself by single-handedly getting us to Euro 2012, here’s a look at some of the lighter moments of the World Cup.

Best Quote:
“I like women, I like women, I like women. I am going out with Veronica, she’s 31, she’s blonde, she’s very pretty!” Diego Maradona to a journalist inquiring about the man love going on between him and his Argentina team.

Next best quote:
“Goals are like ketchup. Sometimes they don’t come out but when they come, many come at once.” Cristiano Ronaldo had obviously been on the sauce.

Strangest story:
Replica World Cup made from cocaine seized in Colombia (police pursuing several lines of inquiry).

Best caption:
On the BBC: ‘Iniesta in space’ – next stop Mars.

Scariest hardman:
No, not Van Bommel or even Karate Kid De Jong, but Gabriel Heinze after his vicious assault on the TV camera.

Best observation:
Mexico coach Javier Aguirre: “It was very important to beat France – they are after all the vice world champions” (no wonder their concentration levels weren’t up to much).

Best pronunciation:
Jonathan Pearce making Mertesacker sound how Lawro would say motorcycle.

And finally….toughest job:
The North Korean TV editor who had to make the 7-0 reverse against Portugal look like a competitive match.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Bad Weather and Terrible Trousers

First of all, here's wishing Howard Webb a nice break somewhere before the onset of the Premier League 2010-11. Amsterdam's a great place to chill out. Mind the coffee shop cookies though, Howie, too many of them and you can get a right bad persecution complex.

Which suggest that maybe the Orange boys had some laced biccies at half-time in Jo'burg. It's amazing how they're bleating on about how Webb cost them the game and yet he saved them from annihilation by keeping the midfield assault troops on the pitch. Just exactly how much of a twat do you need to be before you seriously start to blame Webb for the defeat?

Answer: This much of a twat.

But that's done with now. As is the British Grand Prix. Motor racing is just a repository of testosterone for men who think a sleek speed machine is akin to a priddy lady. From the pit-lane totty to the post-race prattle I find myself wanting to stick every sodding one of them into a Nissan Micra and push em down Sutton Bank.

Apart from Mark Webber, who is refusing to play the Barrichello with the toy-tossing pramster Vettel. I always picture Rubens toddling into the Ferrari garage for his first day and Schumacher striding over, sticking out his lantern jaw another couple of feet and muttering 'Gutten tag mofo. Velcome to Ferrari. You is my bitch now. I own your Goddam ass.' (Although somehow I can't see Ving Rhames playing Schumi).

Webber's 'Not bad for a number 2 driver' is definitely my quote of the sporting year. I hope he's wins the Championship. Yes very unpatriotic of me not to back the Brits. Erm, that'll be the pocket-lining, popstar-banging, tax-dodging Brits. Dunno what I've got against them.

Vettel: 'That's right you traitorous Aussie shit, your new car vill be made out of sand!'

But today sports fans turn their attention to that four day festival of bad weather and terrible trousers that is the Open Golf Championship.

I enjoy this sport despite myself. First of all the sport itself is just downright weird. Legend has it that it was originated by Scottish shepherds who couldn't farm the land that lay between their pasture and the sea. So they picked up their crooks and started tonking the odd ram's testicle up and down the dunes.

This may explain the origins of the name 'golf' - it may be an acronym for 'grizzled old lamb-fuckers'.

Advocates of the game will tell you lots of stuff about how superior it is to other sports. I heard Ian Carter on 5Live saying that it allows the spectator to get closer to the pros than in any other event. Garbage. Tour de France?

There's also this etiquette that demands utter decency from all the protagonists. Which is fair enough, except I know for a fact that I've tapped a ball or six round a course with some cheating little shysters in my time, by Christ.

Plus there are plenty of greats of the game who have spent their latter days pouring their time and effort into converting more perfectly decent stretches of the countryside into manicured playgrounds for appallingly moneyed tosspots to thwack about in. And though Jack Nicklaus will forever be hailed in golfing circles he apparently couldn't get to the Old Course this week cos there wasn't enough moolah being dangled beside his Golden Bear-faced cheeks.

And as we all know, golf clubs are great bastions of Mail-reading middle-class muppets who think a Pringle logo is the height of sartorial elegance. The success of Peter Alliss is simple: there's a Peter Alliss on the nineteenth hole of every course in this country, gin in hand, muttering lightly about this n that and getting grimmer and more ungenerous by the putt.

I'd forcibly retire the bloke meself, but he is as unfireable as a standard issue British Army revolver.

And yet despite all this I do enjoy your Open Golf. St. Andrews always throws up that magnificent Seve celebration on the 17th all them years ago - a kind of hugely indulgent hand shandy of a gesture.

And last year, when kindly old Tortoise Tom almost waddled off with the prize, was wonderful drama. Though Cink winning it was as anticlimactic as an inflatable woman with a puncture. I pray - ironically - that some God-fearing Yank doesn't lift the jug this year. When I hear a sportsman thanking God for his achievements, there's a bit of me that hears him saying 'Yep, that's right, He chose me and not you... LOSER!'

Plus I hope Tiger has a wretched tournament cos I for one don't buy this whole 'oo, I need a new putter claptrap'. I can't quite remember the name of his new blade but I think it's called summat like the Nike CashCow. Woods's main job this week will be to stay out of the bits of rough and those perilous man-traps that line the fairways.

And I hope the pre-tournament chutzpah regarding the inevitability of a British winner doesn't founder on the last nine holes as one by one the young guns wilt like a pack of witless... invertebrate... erm... for want of a better word... FOOTBALLERS.

So here goes - as my predictions are going relatively well at the mo.

I'm opting for one of these two camp young men, even if they do look like they've entered themselves for the Weetabix Women's Open in these outfits.

Poulter, in fact. If he can keep his gob shut. Although I fear the great galumpher that is Mickelson.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Just Iniesta The Nick Of Time

Lineker said it. He really said it. You were waiting and then when it came it was like a bit of regurgitated ice-cream at the back of the throat. It was a 'victory for football'.

Well, I'll go so far as to say it was a victory for Spain and they played better football than Holland. That's about it.
It was a bloody abysmal final, right up there with 1994. And there are three reasons for this.

Reason 1. The Dutch. Every time I've switched on a radio this last week I've heard some git banging on about Total Football. It's allowed nostalgics to get misty-eyed and talk about players of the past in plurals - your Cruyffs, your Reps, your Neeskenseses (?).

Clearly that was then. Van Marwijck has set about that legacy like a Tory chancellor going at a budget deficit. And he left us with Van Bommel and De Jong, which is presumably Dutch for shock and awe.

I know you can't let a side like Spain just pass the ball about like a crack team of 17th century firefighters with a bucket, but neither can you seek to disrupt their flow by scything them down like so much Iberian barley or stamping on their hearts.

I noticed de Jong crossed himself like a Christian as he was subbed off. It was the first Christian thing he bloody well managed. Maybe he was worried about tracking back with Jesus (Navas). Meanwhile van Bommel stomped around like a cyberman with bad hair, bleating away at the ref every time he deigned to give a decision against the Oranjes.

Upfront they had a single threat. Robben bob-bob-bobbed along in the usual way, all high-stepping pace and left foot and tumbling like a stilton in a cheese-rolling contest. What is about the selfish, hawk-eyed, whingeing, uni-pegged slaphead that I don't like, I wonder?

I was delighted that it was Arjen who failed to take the best chance of the match.

Reason 2 was of course Howard Webb. I don't entirely blame the bloke. You can imagine the dictats winging their way from FIFA HQ. They'll be marking you Howie, so do your best to earn the Sepp ticks. And if you doubt the doggedness of FIFA in trying to get what it wants then just ask the Mandela family. Sepp, he's ninety fucking two and he spent twenty-seven years in jail. He'd probably like to watch it on the telly at his house, you unsympathetic twot.

[NB Note for England players: The jail in question was called Robben Island. I realise you probably thought it was a theme park based on the antics of a mazy left-winger from the Low Countries, but a little research might have told you summat about where you were playing the tournament, you ignorant nerks.]

No doubt there's a prerogative to keep all the players on the pitch (unless the opposition starting XI has been deleted by a Dutch holding midfielder). But clearly Webb should have fronted up and removed De Jong from proceedings. I've not seen Jackie Chan play football but I know now what it would look like.

The constant stream of bookings - I swear by the end of the game he was walking around like a tour guide with the yellow card permanently in the air - didn't inhibit the Dutch. It was almost like the responsibilty for kicking the opposition just got shifted on to someone else.

To be honest, there wasn't much else Webb could've done. Vamn Marwijck can moan all he likes about Puyol staying on the pitch (deliciously because Robben stayed on his fett. HA!)Frankly, Iniesta was taken out more times and by more people than your average school bike, and I was pleading for Howard to just stop the game, pick up the ball and roll it past Stekelenburg.

So it was 1-0. For all their mastery of a football - even one as goddamn floaty and crap as the Jubblibubbli - Spain never took enough of their chances to be truly celebrated.

There again, this is FIFA at its worst (reason number three). As an organisation it seems desperate to make things difficult for itself. The ball was as difficult to keep down as a teenage erection, but also the stadiums were left vacant when vast quantities of poor black people would've given their eye teeth to watch a game.

Furthermore, having employed technical genius to come up with a ball you wouldn't buy for a quid from the corner shop, they failed to engage similar technology to actually make the game better.

God knows England didn't deserve anything less than an utter drubbing from Germany but the ease with which the Lampard shot could've been confirmed as a goal just beggars belief. After all, Zidane got dismissed in last year's final cos of the intervention of some 'extra' officials who'd been watching the telly like the rest of us.

FIFA have to introduce technology now or the game will go down the pan. All this slo-mo HD stuff just reveals the true extent of skulduggery at play, and at the very least, as I've said so many times I want to punch myself in the face, you can used video footage to ban the serial divers for 5 games minimum.

So this wasn't a competition to savour. And the Dutch nearly brought it to the ugliest conclusion.

I've mustered a team of the tournament?

Eduardo (Portugal);
Maicon (Brazil), Lucio (Brazil), Puyol (Spain), Capdevila (Spain);
Xavi (Spain), Arevalo (Uruguay), Iniesta (Spain);
Mueller (Germany), Forlan (Uruguay), Villa (Spain).

Of course Sneijder, Ozil and Schweinsteiger should be in there too but I liked the Uruguayan clogger.

Above all, though I will remember this World Cup as a line in the sand. Not only do we hold on to the notion that Spain are the best team in the world cos they look nice when they play footy, it's cos they do things that English footballers - Rooney included this time around - are completely unable to do.

They're what the relentlessly alliterative Hansen would call touch and tecnhnique. I call it brilliance and bollocks. The Germans have power, pace and penetration. We have disdain, disgrace and disinterest.

In with the new. As soon as is humanly possible.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

No Spain No Gain

Ooo, aren't they marvellous that Spain?

You just can't get the ball off them and they ping it around like some very elegant pinball machine. Every touch is a beautiful caress, every swivel and shimmy leaves the lumbering defender squinting in disbelief. Tis not footy. Tis poetry. Dribble, slurp, slaver...

Yes, yes, yes. Agreed, up to a point. But why can't the faffing beggars score more than one bloody goal! Eh?! It used to be a standing joke amongst football fans that your team could thrash the opposition 1-0. With Spain it's bloody well true.

It seems to me they're far too content being a kind of blissed-out Arsene Wenger wet dream and not too bothered about getting the job done. Germany should have been tonked. The team that put four past Argentina and England couldn't muster more than a sidefoot scuffer from the sub Toni Kroos (if that is his name. Strikes me that more and more international footballers sound like hairdressers - Artuto Vidal, Maxi Pereira...)

Now I'm not doubting the quality of the Spaniards and to be honest I can get a little bedazzled by the way they pass it about. Iniesta genuinely has a cloak of invisibility hidden under his shirt. Xabi Alonso's one-man campaign to make Rafa Benitez look the dimmest coach in club football is working perfectly. And Xavi Hernandez, who can make space for himself by raising an eyebrow, threads a pass with all the clairvoyance of a psychic octopus.

Why then, was I left hoping that Klose or someone might just blunder in a German winner?

I think it's this: Spain are the bunch of kids you come across on the playing fields and who challenge you to a kickabout and then spend the next hour turning you inside out more times than the half-price jumpers at TK Maxx. Not only that but they can't quite bring themselves to put the ball between the Adidas bags. If they can't score with a backheel or a scissor kick they just can't be arsed.

In other words, it's a bit bloody smug and although they're ostensibly goodies you can't help rooting for the ugly baddy to get a victory once. I mean I've been on the daleks' side during this season of Dr Who for the same reason. Rooting for Germany last night was like praying for Roadrunner to get squished by a boulder flung from an Acme Catapult.

Of course the acme of Spanish pissing about was Pedro's twist, turn and tumble when Torres just needed a little sidefoot across the box to record his latest glaring miss of the tournament. Just shoot, you little twat.

Dos patatas bravas per favor, Vicente. e muy than uno goal!

Still, you wondered why Del Bosque, still looking for all the world like the proud owner of a damn fine little tapas bar in downtown Salamanca that serves cracking Torres (the brandy), has taken so long to put the little Barca winger on at the start when Torres (the soon to be former Liverpool footballer) has been so abject.

Perhaps less noted but of more value has been Spain's really solid back two. I've always liked Puyol, niggly little Def Leppard reject though he is. Ramos is still a little wayward at the back but great going forward and a little more Red Hot Chili Peppers, I reckon. Capdevila is very dependable. And Fergie must still have a fit of Pique every time Gerard steps out from the back a la Lucio.

And, Capello, McClaren and every other numpty who's tried to make it work, please note that Fabregas doesn't start because Sr Del Bosque has a balanced midfield already - plus he has the nuts to leave out a good quality player rather than play him at left back just so he's on the bloody pitch!!!!

So it's Spain (ooh, aren't they just tippety-tappety tickety boo!) against Holland. Or the Netherlands. Why do they need two names for Christ's sake? Is there a difference? Anyway the Dutch have got there with a Dunga model, really. Two holding midfielders, and de Jong and Van Bommel seem to leave the pitch unsatisfied unless the studs on their vampire boots have tasted human blood, and an inventive front three in Sneijder, Van Persie and Robben. And Dirk Kuyt.

"Xavi... oh yes... I shall mark Xavi, boss... don't you vorry!"

And with the aid of the odd deflection, it's worked. Without being sparkling, or remotely Total Football, they've got the results. And in Robben and Sneijder they have the polar opposite of the shot-shy Spaniards. They may not be fit to light Cruyff's fags for him, but they've retained a bit of that shoot-on-sight tradition made glorious by the likes of Haan, Krol and Rep.

So it may well be that the Netherholls make the most of what little possession they have. But I doubt the ball will be more than a passing mayfly that glimmers and dies even as it appears. Spain will reign, I'm sure of it. Villa will confirm his golden-bootedness.

I just hope it's more than one-bloody-nil, that's all.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Ich bin ein Berliner

Well we can safely say the World Cup has revved into gear now we've got shot of Dommenech's enfants terrible, Lippi's pensioners and Capello's crocks of cack. Four good quarter-finals featuring plenty of grown men in tears - always a sign that things have been right tense.
NB How many England players were reaching for the man-size tissues after the Germany game? (Yeah, yeah, 'course it matters to you, boys).

Of course, the team of the tournament has been Germany. And naturally that means a bunch of lazy, half-baked analysis by the couch potatoes of MotD which has amounted to this:
Hansen: 'Great game-plan...'
Shearer: 'Organised, know their roles...'
Dixon: 'Yeah, what Alan said, erm... and what Alan said.'

They were a stone's throw away from saying 'They were only obeying orders and vorksprung durch technik.'

I am helping you to find your inner German, lads

Fact is the German team has shown more collective flair and dash than the rest of the teams put together. The fourth goal was a thing of beauty and had it been Messi to Tevez to Higuain we'd have been hearing all sorts of bollocks about how your Latin Americans can open tins of luncheon meat with one peg while constructing a matchstick model of the Casa Rosada with the other.

Look, this is the same German team that were only denied last time by a rare bit of devilry upfront from Del Piero and co and got to the final in Euro 2008. There's this idea that we can 'never discount the Germans' because they are deviously pre-programmed for success, when actually they just happen to have some seriously talented players who play well as a team.

The revelation has been Pigsticker (or Pigmounter) who we first saw being a snarling platinum blonde prima donna a few years back - a kind of German Pink minus the talent. This tournament, perhaps freed from the ponderous Barryesque plodder that is Michael Ballack, Schweinsteiger has been pulling the strings like a Prussian Xavi.

The new Schweinsteiger memorial statue

(By the way, since we pronounce that name 'Chavvy', isn't it inevitable that Chelsea will snap him up? Although extending that logic, Spurs and Arsenal will be fighting over Ponce's signature).

Can the Germans lift the trophy? Well Trochowski's a bit Mueller Lite so that might harm their chances but with Klose still defying the logic of club form in a way that might give Michael Owen renewed hope, and Ozil proving to be the best young player in South Africa, well, yes. They can.

Especially in the light of another of them off-key Spanish performances. Why the hell is Del Bosque picking Torres? I'm seriously wondering whether it's Dave Kitson after having found a bottle of Just For Men. His demeanour and movement remind me of Chrissy Waddle during his stint at Sunderland. Or Wayne Rooney in his last four games.

Still the Grattan catalogue coaching team of Germany will be crossing their fingers for Torres to turn up, even if he did terrify them two years ago.

I suppose the main thing is Spain have made it. The ref did right with both pens, although a retaken penalty is one of them sad jokes a ref likes to use just occasionally, like a foul throw, or a custodial sentence for possession of mairijuana. Yes, strictly speaking, it's wrong to encroach into the area at a spot-kick but really... who cares?

Iniesta's nous shone through in the end although clearly there's a rule in world football that if little ghostly Andres goes down, it's always a free kick. The lad's got the Becks knack of winning free-kicks for absolutely bugger-all and cos he's a player I love it's beginning to really rankle.

Of course the Spanish trump card is David 'Don't call me Aston' Villa. The lad's lethal.

Holland will win the other semi-final, no doubt. Beating Brazil was a right turn-up. Felipe Melo treating Robben like a discarded fag-end wasn't. That lads got more screws loose than a disorganised B and Q.

And of course the tie of the round was Uruguay-Ghana. I didn't give a fig about it but what a momentous game.

It will always be remembered for that handball - for which well played, Suarez lad, If that'd been Rooney I'd have been thanking him too (although Wazza displayed the reflexes of a neutered cat coming round from the op so I doubt he'd've got anywhere near it).

Me, I'll remember it not so much for Gyam's miss as the one he took in the penalty shoot-out.

That's a whole continent you've let down there, son.

It didn't stop the poor lad's eyes from gushing like a burst BP pipe after they lost, but crikey for sheer enormity of bollock it's the most admirable thing I've seen on a footy pitch for a while. And not far behind was Abreu's preposterously brave dink to win it for Uruguay.

Somehow the thrill of Wimbers failed to distract me much. Particularly the lasses which unsurprisingly featured a Williams and a megadecibelled Russian shrieker in the final. And a bunch of cowering tennis balls begging not to be hit again by the great clomping Amazons. Can't these harridans pipe down when they're playing? It's tennis not bleeding childbirth.

Brazil were my tip for the title so it's all up for grabs now. And if Germany can keep playing like they are, I hope they win it. Jesus. I never, never thought I'd ever write that sentence.