Fear not intrepid 2010 FIFA™ World Cup South Africa readers, the blog has not perished! My apologies for the lengthy gap between this entry and the last but as with all dedicated commentators of live entertainment, I decided to venture out into the field and go on a ludicrously demanding fact finding mission. Yes that’s right, I’ve spent the last week in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, the very epicentre of official 2010 FIFA™ World Cup South Africa related action.
The last time I wrote on these pages ‘the mighty three lions’ as Ian Wright would rightly call ‘our brave boys’ had roared their way to resounding 0-0 thrashing of Algeria and were preparing to give Slovenia similarly cut-throat treatment. That they managed to instigate a devilishly cold 1-0 deconstruction of Matjaz Kek’s team ensured that I would be in Glasgow by the time Fabio Capello brought his pride of footballers to Bloemfontein. Goalkeeping coach Ray Clemence had said before kick off that ‘Capello’s been really harsh this week and none of the boys have been fed since the Slovenia game, not even the cubs. You should see them in the changing room now, they’re literally hungry for blood’. Unfortunately for Capello, Ian Wright and Saint George flag sellers nationwide, Germany executed their tactics perfectly and Joachim Loew’s brave decision to equip all his players with wooden chairs and leather whips reduced the might of England’s bit cat prowess to timid, pedestrian, kitten like mewing. That and the fact that Germany were, are and will probably always be, brilliant at all aspects of 11-a-side tournament football and that they outclassed England in every aspect of the match also contributed to the 4-1 thrashing that had the good patrons of Trader Jones in Glasgow uncontrollably crying. With laughter. Needless to say I bid a hasty retreat to the haven of Ullapool, a healthy seven and a half hours north of Clydebank, and viewed the rest of the past week’s matches from there. However, given Germany then took Argentina apart 4-0, scoring the one goal against them was maybe quite good.
As Ullapool has a larger population of dolphins and seals than people, world cup fever hasn’t yet hit the town. This being the case, the only game I saw from start to finish was Ghana’s devastating defeat on penalties to Uruguay. The match itself was brilliant with two exceptional goals in either half complimented delectably by the freshly caught fish and locally brewed ale that sat in front of me. In extra time, having looked like they were flagging, the Ghanaians finally employed the tactic of trying to shoot closer than 50 yards from goal, something they’d generously held back from doing in all their previous games in the tournament. This proved to be exceptionally fruitful as in the last five minutes Ghana had more chances to score than they had in the previous one hundred and fifteen. The culmination of all these near misses was the worst near miss of them all. When Suarez punched the ball clear of the goal the referee had no option but to send him off and award Ghana a penalty. A kick from twelve yards that Asamoah Gyan had dispatched with ease twice already in the tournament to secure the points for Ghana that saw them progress from the group. A kick from twelve yards that with the last kick of the match would send Ghana into the semi finals of the World Cup, a first for an African team. And this wasn’t any old world cup; it was the Official 2010 FIFA™ World Cup South Africa. In Ullapool, as Gyan composed himself the aquatic mammalian world and the people were united as one. All of us, with the exception of four Belgian tourists, were gazing up at a small screen willing the ball to go in. Sadly, it didn’t. The dolphins sank away, the majority groaned, the four Belgians cheered. One man shrugged and said ‘that’s football’. Of course the match wasn’t actually lost in that moment but realistically that was Ghana’s big chance. They lost the following shoot out, largely because Uruguay were better at taking a penalty without a run up than Ghana were and Gyan, who scored three penalties in the tournament, will be remembered most for the one he missed.
As Scotland nobly decided not to qualify for this summer’s finals in order to ‘give the other small countries a go’, my culinary challenge of eating along with the teams reached a hiatus at the end of the group stages. I will however finish with a four course extravaganza to celebrate the final four over the climactic weekend. Here’s to the final week!