Friday, June 25, 2010
The doom-mongers say he is taking on an impossible job, and committing career suicide to boot.
In fact, the precise opposite is true.
To be sure, he takes over a France team in total disarray. A shameful World Cup ended with a 2-1 defeat to South Africa, with one player sent home and the players who led a revolt against his expulsion consigned to the bench. The aftermath of the game was predictably messy too, as players queued up to apologise to the fans while simultaneously throwing Raymond Domenech under a bus.
Captain Patrice Evra, dropped for the South Africa debacle, said: "It's time to say sorry. I apologise to the fans. My coach stopped me saying sorry yesterday." He added ominously: "I'll explain things in the week."
Domenech decided to take the low road right from the final whistle, refusing to shake hands with his opposite number Carlos Alberto Parreira, apparently because of a comment about France not deserving to qualify. On the strength of their showing here, Parreira was dead right.
Yes, there will be recriminations, accusations and yet more public squabbling. But after that, Blanc has a unique opportunity. The French football establishment is deeply conservative and deeply political, yet the current mess gives Blanc at least a fighting chance of getting his way. That Domenech lasted so long owed much to the fact he was one of the federation backroom boys. He was also cheap - one of the lowest-paid coaches at the World Cup.
Blanc is different. He is a highly-rated coach who has been linked with Manchester United and Inter Milan. He doesn't have to be there. He can walk away into a much more lucrative club job. The federation have already shelled out €1.5m compensation to Bordeaux for his services, plus a much heftier salary than Domenech was on.
He can and will demand change. He is a standard-bearer for the class of '98 - players like Didier Deschamps and Bixente Lizarazu who have been fiercely critical of the powers-that-be. And it's not like the Federation bigwigs are in much of a position to resist change. That the present situation was allowed to develop owes much to them.
While French Federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes casually said resignation was "not in my nature", he may not have much choice. Since his election, he has presided over the decline of a nation that 10 years ago were world and European champions, the envy of global football. Now they are a punchline. France are at ground zero, and Blanc can draw a line under the past. The feuds, the cliques and the conflict must be forgotten if France are to move forwards.
There is more good news for Blanc in that France have a very good crop of players. Of the current squad, key men Franck Ribery, Hugo Lloris and Yoann Gourcuff will all still be around in four years, while the under-21 side contains outstanding prospects such as Moussa Sissoko and Mamadou Sakho. Expectations are rock bottom. A team that regularly competed to major silverware now cannot get through training without a senior player shoving a plastic cone down the throat of the fitness coach.
If Blanc can actually win a football match or two, his status as a national hero seems assured.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Fabio Capello's men needed to win to reach the knock-out stages, and produced a much-improved performance to do just that. The goal proved a triumph for the coach, as the two men brought in as tactical changes combined to unlock Slovenia - James Milner crossed from the right and Jermaine Defoe finished from close range. However, Defoe and Wayne Rooney were guilty of misses that ultimately cost England top spot in the group on goal difference and condemned them to a much more difficult draw. Brave defending from John Terry, Matthew Upson - deputising for the suspended Jamie Carragher - and Glen Johnson snuffed out what chances Slovenia had.
USA 1-0 Algeria - Group C - Pretoria
The Americans were heading out - and Slovenia were heading through - until Landon Donovan's dramatic stoppage-time winner propelled them into top spot in the group. The US dominated proceedings after Rafik Djebbour hit the bar early on for Algeria. Clint Dempsey had a goal controversially disallowed, Jozy Altidore missed a sitter, then Dempsey hit the post. Algeria played very defensively considering they needed to win to have a chance of going through, but they finally succumbed when goalkeeper Rais M'Bolhi fumbled a cross and Donovan slotted the winner.
Ghana 0-1 Germany - Group D - Soccer City
Germany had to win to ensure they went through after their surprising defeat to Serbia, and narrowly prevailed in an entertaining encounter. Both sides carved out chances in a refreshingly open game, but it fell to Mesut Ozil to break the deadlock with an unerring left-foot shot from the edge of the area. Ozil has been one of the stars of the tournament and will be a major threat for England on Sunday. Ghana also qualified on goal difference, and will almost certainly be the only African side in the last 16.
Australia 2-1 Serbia - Group D - Nelspruit
Australia started the competition miserably and ended it in combative form, but went out as a result of their opening 4-0 defeat to Germany. Tim Cahill opened the scoring with a trademark header on 69 minutes before Brett Holman doubled their lead with a bouncing bomb from 25 yards. At that point the Australians were two goals from overtaking Ghana on goal difference, but Mirko Pantelic put paid to such hopes, grabbing a consolation for Serbia after Mark Schwarzer spilled the ball.
Last 16 matches
USA v Ghana - Rustenburg - June 26 - 9.30pm
Germany v England - Bloemfontein - June 27 - 5.00pm
Group F - Slovakia v Italy (Johannesburg) and Paraguay v New Zealand (Polokwane) - 5.00pm
Italy find themselves in a similar position to England after drawing their first two games, and know a win against Slovakia will take them though to the last 16. A draw will even do it as long as Paraguay beat New Zealand. The South Americans are in top spot and a win against the as-yet unbeaten All-Whites should ensure they avoid a tricky last-16 tie against the Netherlands. Slovakia will go through if they beat Italy and New Zealand do not beat Paraguay.
Group E - Cameroon v Netherlands (Cape Town) and Denmark v Japan (Rustenburg) - 9.30pm
Cameroon were the first team eliminated from the competition after losing to Denmark last week, but will be looking to end with a flourish in a disappointing tournament for African sides. Netherlands need a point to guarantee top spot and coach Bert van Marwijk could be tempted to rest some players. The winner of Japan versus Denmark will join the Dutch in the knock-out rounds. A draw sends Japan through on goal difference.
What to say: 'It's just a flesh wound.'
What not to say: 'It's nice to see your players limp off, that's loyal footballers.'
World Cup jargon: Elfmeterschießen
What the Germans call a penalty shoot-out, usually with a sly cackle. It is a true that Germany are brilliant at penalties, although irritatingly they very rarely need to use them. Since beating England on spot-kicks in 1990 they have only had two shoot-outs in major tournaments - versus England at Euro '96 and against Argentina at the 2006 World Cup. They won both, of course. But there is hope for the rest. England now practise penalties in training (well, duh...) and Germany's Lukas Podolski had a penalty saved against Serbia - the first German failure from 12 yards in a World Cup since 1982. Mind you, Podolski was born in Poland. We can only hope for a repeat on Sunday afternoon.
The decision to send striker Nicolas Anelka home, after he launched a foul-mouthed tirade at Domenech, caused huge unrest in the France squad, with rows, resignations and the players refusing to train. But Domenech's mother Germaine has leapt to the defence of her son, warning Anelka to watch his back. "I'd like to meet Anelka and give him a piece of my mind as a mother," said Germaine. "It's distressing to be insulted like that, because Raymond is not just the coach, he's also my son. It's a double insult to my son and to me as his mother."
For the record, Anelka is alleged to have said to Domenench: "F*** you, you son of a whore."
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
France 1-2 South Africa - Group A - Bloemfontein
A desperate World Cup for France ended in suitably shambolic circumstances as they lost to the host nation. Captain Patrice Evra was among four men banished from the side after a players' revolt over the expulsion of Nicolas Anelka, while Djibril Cissé started up front. Bongani Khumalo headed South Africa in front after an error by goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, then France playmaker Yoann Gourcuff was sent off harshly for an alleged elbow. Katlego Mphela added a second to raise hopes the hosts might qualify on goal difference, but Florent Malouda grabbed a late consolation. Outgoing France coach Raymond Domenech refused to shake hands with opposite number Carlos Alberto Parreira after the final whistle.
Mexico 0-1 Uruguay - Group A - Rustenburg
These two teams could have played out a draw and both gone through, so it is to their credit that this was a competitive, full-blooded encounter. After Andres Guardado had rattled the crossbar with a long-range shot for Uruguay, Luis Suarez netted an unmarked header from six yards just before half-time. Francisco Rodriguez headed wide when given a glorious chance to equalise late on, but in the end Mexico went through as runners-up behind Uruguay.
Greece 0-2 Argentina - Group B - Polokwane
Few outside Greece will mourn the demise of Otto Rehhagel's ultra-defensive side. Even though they knew a draw may not be enough, the Greeks set out to get one, starting with four centre-backs and four central midfielders. For much of the game it worked, as an Argentina side captained by Lionel Messi but missing the rested Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain struggled. Defender Martin Demichelis finally rammed the ball into the roof of the net on 77 minutes, before 36-year-old Martin Palermo added a second late on.
Nigeria 2-2 South Korea - Group B - Durban
Greece's defeat meant Nigeria would have gone through with a win, but they fell just short in an absorbing encounter. Kalu Uche gave the African side the lead on 12 minutes before Lee-Jung Soo equalised before half time. Park Chu-Young scored a free-kick just after the break to give Korea the lead before Ayegbeni Yakubu was guilty of an incredible missed open goal. To his credit, Yakubu slotted a penalty shortly afterwards, but his fellow striker Obafemi Martins squandered a late chance to grab a place in the last 16.
Last 16 matches:
Uruguay v South Korea - Port Elizaberth - June 26 - 5.00pm
Argentina v Mexico - Johannesburg - June 27 - 9.30pm
Group C - Slovenia v England (Port Elizabeth) and USA v Algeria (Pretoria) - 5.00pm
The key fact is this: if England win, they qualify. They can also guarantee top spot if they beat Slovenia and better the USA's result against Algeria. If they don't? A draw almost certainly won't be good enough - if either USA or Algeria win they will finish ahead of England. If England have a very high-scoring draw and the USA-Algeria game ends 0-0 that would be enough. If England draw 2-2 and USA draw 0-0 they would draw lots to determine second place in the group. Jermain Defoe has been tipped to start in place of Emile Heskey, while Aaron Lennon's place is vulnerable to James Milner or Joe Cole.
Group D - Ghana v Germany (Soccer City) and Australia v Serbia (Nelspruit) - 9.30pm
Having started so impressively with a 4-0 win against Australia, Germany need to win to ensure their World Cup does not grind to an early halt. Ghana top the group and will go through with a draw. Ghana's German-born Kevin-Prince Boateng faces the country where he is now public enemy number one, having inflicted the injury that forced Michael Ballack out of the World Cup. Serbia know they will go through if they beat Australia, while the Socceroos have only an outside chance even if they win.
What to say: 'England are going to beat Slovenia.'
What not to say: 'England are going to beat Slovakia.' - Slovenia boss Matjaz Kek was furious when the official media guide referred to his team as 'Slovakia'. And, as their kit contains no shortage of green, you wouldn't like Slovenia when they're angry.
Typically, after a week of strikes, resignations and accusations, France left the tournament with a row. As if he did not have enough enemies, Raymond Domenech finished by rounding on his South Africa counterpart, Carlos Alberto Parreira, for comments made in November that, because of Thierry Henry's handball against Ireland, France did not deserve to be at the World Cup. On the displays they have produced here, it would be hard to argue that Parreira was wrong.
"I was very polite at the end of the game but he claimed I had offended him. I cannot for the life of me understand why," said Parreira. "I went to greet Domenech [at] the final whistle as a matter of politeness because I knew he was stepping down. But he told me I had offended the French team. I said I had no idea what he was talking about, but he mentioned what I said about the 'Hand of Gaul' incident. It is just lamentable."
You can't say that a sorry World Cup was not on the cards though. Two years ago at Euro 2008 France hurried out of the tournament on the first available plane with no wins and just one goal to their name. They had, as Florent Malouda described it, lost their identity. During qualification to this World Cup it remained astray. And now it has vanished altogether.
So, farewell then Raymond. Another disjointed and spineless performance is a fitting epitaph to a desperately bizarre period for Les Bleus. Monsieur Domenech will go down in the record books as their longest-serving coach. He will be remembered as the man who excruciatingly proposed to his girlfriend on live television after France's exit at Euro 2008. He will be cursed as the man who oversaw the most unsavoury campaign in the history of French football. He left the stage with a moody refusal to shake the hand of his opposite number. He is a toe-curler extraordinaire.
But the extent to which he alone was responsible for this mess remains subject for debate; Domenech's status has always been compromised. People believe that Zidane effectively took over in 2006. This time, his authority was challenged by the famous five – Franck Ribéry, William Gallas, Patrice Evra, Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka – and by the strident opinions of Malouda. He was never really in control. The way he stood vacantly as France slumped to defeat against Mexico, the way he was forced to read out the statement from players who refused to train, paints an emphatic picture of a lame duck.
Back to Tuesday's debacle. Usually, when a team makes wholesale changes in the third group game it is because they have already qualified. Not so as Domenech felt obliged to rip up his teamsheet. Most of the players he identified as the worst of the troublemakers were excluded from the starting line-up, with the exception of Gallas and Ribéry. Ridiculously, Gallas sang along to La Marseillaise with gusto. How bizarre, considering it is something he has not been known for doing during his long international career as he is one of those players who prefers to abstain. What a coincidence to suddenly remember the words after 83 caps. A calculated move? The French public will have to make their own minds up on that one. "We will do everything individually and also in a collective spirit to ensure that France regains its honour with a positive performance," read the statement presented by players who went on strike in support of Anelka two days ago. That statement, incidentally, had been prepared by lawyers in advance.
There were many who wondered why South Africa had chosen to stage their decisive fixture at a rugby stadium in the heart of the old Afrikaner republic. There, said one taxi driver, "they do not use the vuvuzela – they sing". And when South Africa were two up and heading for redemption, they began a beautiful rhythmic chant; one of the sounds of the World Cup.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
When Manute Bol played basketball, shooters on the other team would sneak a peek to find out where he was, lest he swat their shots into the expensive seats. But off the court, everyone knew were Mr. Bol stood. He was doing everything he could for his war-ravaged home, Southern Sudan.
Mr. Bol, a very tall, courtly man, died last weekend at 47 of complications from a severe kidney ailment and other conditions. He had been badly injured in a 2004 car accident. He lived in West Hartford from 2002 to 2007, where he added a touch of international celebrity and panache, and is well remembered. "He was always a gentlemen," said state Sen. Jonathan Harris.
Readers of Dave Eggers' remarkable and frightening blend of truth and fiction about the life of a Sudanese immigrant, "What Is The What," know that Mr. Bol was lionized by his countrymen. For good reason. He spent most of his professional basketball fortune trying to improve conditions in Southern Sudan and help immigrants who had left. He held a fundraiser last year in West Hartford for a school he was building back home. Mr. Bol played for 10 years in the National Basketball Association and was one of the game's premier shot-blockers. His greater achievement was to use his star status to help his countrymen. It's an example more celebrities should embrace.
Rest in peace, great son of Africa.
Portugal 7-0 North Korea - Group G - Cape Town
This absolute hammering was actually quite close until the most disastrous half-time team-talk of all time. The Koreans trailed 1-0 to a Raul Meireles goal but were making life hard for Portugal, but after the break started to hurtle forwards and got repeatedly caught out - goals flowed like the rain in soggy Cape Town. Simao, Hugo Almeida, Tiago (twice), Liedson and Cristiano Ronaldo all hit the target to ensure the match may never be shown in Pyongyang. The result all but eliminates Ivory Coast, who must now overturn a nine-goal deficit behind Portugal.
Chile 1-0 Switzerland - Group H - Port Elizabeth
Another impressive performance from the Chileans, who have two wins out of two but may still struggle to qualify - they, Switzerland and Spain could all finish on six points. The game turned on the half-hour mark when Swiss midfielder Valon Behrami was sent off for a flailing but not dangerous arm that Arturo Vidal made the most of. Switzerland set a World Cup record of 559 minutes without conceding but eventually fell to a 75th-minute Mark Gonzalez header.
Spain 2-0 Honduras - Group H - Johannesburg
The pre-tournament favourites duly won this must-win game, but should have at least equalled Portugal's tally from earlier in the day. David Villa scored twice - the first a sensational solo effort, the second a deflected shot. But Villa missed a penalty to complete his hat-trick and Fernando Torres was unusually profligate. Spain will qualify if they beat Chile in their last game, but their failure to run up the score here could mean they finish second and face Brazil in the second round.
Both matches within a group are played simultaneously to avoid any collusion. So for the next few days it will be two games at 5.00, then two more at 9.30. More details at the bottom of the page.
Group A - Mexico v Uruguay (Rustenburg) and France v South Africa (Bloemfontein)
If Mexico and Uruguay draw, both teams will go through, so expect accusations to fly if they produce that result. However, second-placed Mexico will want to win to avoid Argentina in the second round. Should the French players bother turning up to play the hosts, they need to run up the score to overturn a goal difference of four behind Mexico and five behind Uruguay. They are without Nicolas Anelka who was expelled on Saturday. Bafana Bafana have a slim chance but only if they thrash France.
Group B - Nigeria v Korea Republic (Durban) and Greece v Argentina (Polokwane)
Argentina are not technically through yet - although to be knocked out they would have to lose to Greece by three, and Korea would have to beat Nigeria by the same margin. Diego Maradona is expected to field a strong side, and Korea know they must only equal or better Greece's result to progress. Nigeria lost their first two games, but could go through if they beat Korea by two and Argentina beat Greece.
With a level of irony that even Alanis Morissette could have identified correctly, Fabio Capello used a television interview to rebuke John Terry for voicing his concerns to the media the previous day.
Clearly, logic dictates that if you're going to tell players not to mouth off to the press, you cannot do it by mouthing to the press. But Capello has clearly decided this is no time for philosophical niceties, and leapt straight into this metaphysical minefield, caring not if his limbs were blown straight into the gaping mouths of the assembled hacks.
"When you speak, you have to speak privately, not with the media," he said. "This is the big mistake, this is the very big mistake," he added, as everyone in the room nodded sagely.
With Rio Ferdinand and Ledley King injured and Jamie Carragher suspended, Capello has confirmed fifth-choice centre-back Matthew Upson will play against Slovenia on Wednesday. Might the Italian axe Terry and partner Upson with sixth-choice Michael Dawson instead?
What to say: Anything you like, as long as you don't say it to the media.
What not to say: Terry has already invoked Nicolas Anelka, so in his case what not to say is: 'Go f*** yourself, dirty son of a whore.'
World Cup jargon: Simulcast
Since the infamous West Germany-Austria carve-up in 1982, all four teams in a group have played their final game at the same time to (attempt to) ensure fairness.
The result is much flicking between channels and often confusion as teams try to find out what is happening elsewhere.
In 1998, Morocco beat Scotland 3-0 and began celebrating their qualification to the second round. Only for somebody to inform them that Norway had improbably scored two late goals against Brazil, and the Moroccans had been eliminated.
How groups are decided:
2- Goal difference
3- Goals scored
5- Drawing lots
No details were given of where and when they were arrested, the circumstances leading to the arrest or where they were being held. But reports indicate that one of the arrested is a former Rwandan national known to Nyamwasa, although some reports claimed that all the suspects were Rwandan, one of them a former soldier.
Nyamwasa was hospitalised on Saturday after being shot in the stomach outside his Johannesburg home in what his wife, Rosette, said was an assassination attempt. Mariemuthoo said the six would be charged with attempted murder but declined to give details, saying the investigations had reached a “sensitive stage”. Sources close to Nyamwasa told the media on Sunday that he was recovering and should be able to leave hospital in a few days.
Once a close confidante of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Nyamwasa fled Kigali in February. He has since accused the president of corruption, charges which Kagame denies. Rwanda’s government linked Nyamwasa to grenade attacks in Kigali earlier this year and has previously tried to secure his extradition. Nyamwasa has denied the allegations.
There have been several defections from the military ahead of elections due in August. Nyamwasa fled to South Africa after falling out with Kagame. Later, he accused Kagame of using an anti-corruption campaign to frame opponents. Meanwhile, Rwanda has denied responsibility in the shooting. Foreign minister Louise Mushikiwabo said Kagame’s government “does not condone violence” and that she trusted South Africa would investigate the shooting thoroughly.
Kagame, who has been in power for 16 years, is viewed by many in the West as one of Africa’s more dynamic leaders, although critics have expressed fears that a string of recent happenings, including the Nyamwasa shooting, may dent his image.
This is not the first time Rwanda has been accused of attempting to kill or killing a prominent Rwandan exile. Former Rwandan interior minister Seth Sendashonga was killed in May 1998 in Nairobi, Kenya.
His widow later testified that she believed Rwanda was behind her husband’s killing. She claimed he had been set to testify before the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which is trying the suspected masterminds of the genocide. A Kenyan judge acquitted the three suspects in Sendashonga’s killing, saying the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that they committed the crime. The judge added that the Rwandan government’s refusal to waive diplomatic immunity for some of its embassy officials suggested that there was a political motive behind the killing.
Anelka’s foul-mouthed outburst at coach Raymond Domenech sparked a chaotic chain of events, with the striker being kicked out of the team after the bust-up at half-time during France’s defeat to Mexico was revealed in a French newspaper. The forward, who plays for English Premier League champions Chelsea, arrived back in London early Monday, after his teammates had refused to take part in a session on Sunday.
Amid extraordinary scenes at their training base in South Africa and in full view of TV cameras, team captain Patrice Evra had a shouting match with fitness coach Robert Duverne before the scheduled session, forcing Domenech to intervene. When the players refused to train, a furious Duverne stormed off and threw his stopwatch across the pitch in frustration.
The players’ mutiny prompted top French Football Federation (FFF) official Jean-Louis Valentin to resign, saying he was “disgusted” by the players.
Domenech read out a statement from the players expressing their opposition to the decision to kick Anelka out of the squad and said they deplored the way the dressing room bust-up between him and Domenech had been revealed by sports daily L’Equipe on Saturday. “We regret the incident at half-time of the France versus Mexico match, but we regret even more the divulging of an event which was only the squad’s business and was part and parcel of the life of a top-level team,” the statement added.
Anelka, 31, was sent home after refusing to apologise for the expletive-laden outburst at Domenech after the coach had criticised his low-key first-half performance in the 2-0 defeat to Mexico on Thursday. France, the 1998 World Cup winners and 2006 runners-up, are supposed to be preparing to face host nation South Africa today in their final group Group A game with qualification on the line. If Mexico and Uruguay draw their match, France are out of the tournament regardless of the result against South Africa.
Meanwhile, France’s Credit Agricole bank suspended its sponsorship of the French World Cup football team on Monday after internal divisions in the camp exploded into a full-blown crisis. The announcement came after French fastfood chain Quick said Sunday it was stopping advertisements starring France’s star striker Nicolas Anelka, who was sent home from the Cup after a foul-mouthed rant at coach Raymond Domenech.
Monday, June 21, 2010
Raul Meireles opened the scoring after 29 minutes at the Green Point Stadium before Portugal netted three times in the space of seven second-half minutes. Goals from Simao Sabrosa, Hugo Almeida and Tiago ensured the lowest-ranked team in the tournament were eliminated before efforts from Liedson, Cristiano Ronaldo and Tiago again in the last 10 minutes added a real gloss to the scoreline.
It means that even if Portugal lose their final game to Brazil, the Ivory Coast will need to beat North Korea and overturn a nine goal differential.
The game could not offer the drama of 44 years ago when North Korea took a 3-0 lead over Portugal in the World Cup quarter-final at Goodison Park before losing 5-3 - but a lively opening period saw 15 attempts on goal.
Ricardo Carvalho saw an early header hit the post before Meireles, a constant threat with his runs from midfield, broke the deadlock. The Porto man timed his run to perfection and lashed his shot under the outrushing Ri Myong-guk after a great through ball by Tiago. Indeed Meireles should have had a second before half-time after Pak Chol-jin's clearance hit An Yong-hak and the ball fell to him, but he dragged his effort wide from close range.
Korea did have a golden chance to open the scoring after 18 minutes when a powerful diagonal drive from Hong Yong-jo was pushed away by Eduardo and straight to Pak Nam-chol - but he failed to keep his header down from point-blank range. Cha Jong-hyok and An Yong-hak also had decent strikes from distance as Korea showed far more adventure than they did in their opening 2-1 defeat to Brazil. But they were overwhelmed in the second half and Portugal extended their lead after 53 minutes through the best team goal of the tournament.
A cross from the right was chested down by Almeida, he combined with Meireles who slipped in Simao and the Atletico Madrid winger calmly slotted his finish between the legs of Ri Myong-guk.
Three minutes later it became three with the impressive full-back Fabio Coentrao bursting down the left and his pinpoint cross was headed home by Almeida. Almeida was one of four changes made to the starting XI by Carlos Queiroz after the disappointing goalless draw against Ivory Coast and another of the new faces, Tiago, added the fourth.
Ronaldo sprung the offside trap down the left and pulled the ball back to the former Chelsea midfielder who sidefooted his shot into the back of the net. Portugal threatened to run riot with Meireles missing a gilt-edged chance from eight yards, Coentrao dinking the ball marginally wide and Ronaldo cutting inside and unleashing a thunderbolt that flicked off the top of the crossbar.
Liedson did add the fifth, nine minutes from time, as he lashed a volley into the back of the net with virtually his first touch after Ri Kwang-chon made a complete hash of Duda's cross from the left. Another defensive calamity saw Ronaldo break his streak of 12 international matches without a goal, Liedson nipping in to steal the ball before the Real Madrid star saw his shot bounce back off the keeper and roll down his back and neck before he tapped into an empty net. Tiago completed the rout a minute from time as he planted his header into the far corner after a cross from the left by Miguel Veloso and Portugal will go into Friday's Group G finale against Brazil with real confidence and a chance to top the group.
Slovakia 0-2 Paraguay - Group F - Bloemfontein
An assured performance from the Paraguayans maintained South America's unbeaten record at the World Cup and put them in reach of the last 16. Enrique Vera opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark shooting deftly with the outside of his boot. They were unable to convert their dominance into goals until late on, when Cristian Riveros fired home from the edge of the box. Slovakia were as poor as Paraguay were impressive, and they need to beat Italy to have any chance.
Italy 1-1 New Zealand - Group F - Nelspruit
Even by this tournament's standards, the world's 78th-ranked nation holding the World Cup holders is quite a stunner. Shane Smeltz opened the scoring in the seventh minute with a goal that owed much to both a friendly linesman (he was offside) and a horrible piece of defending by Fabio Cannavaro. Vincenzo Iaquinta whacked in a disputed penalty to equalise, but the All Whites were arguably the stronger side. Their manager Ricki Herbert said of their final game against Paraguay: "We're going to be bloody hard to beat."
Brazil 3-1 Ivory Coast - Group G - Soccer City
A strange mixture of good and bad for Dunga's Brazil. The good? Two goals from Luis Fabiano, ending a nine-game goal drought (even if the second required two handballs), and some slick passing football. The bad? A serious-looking injury to Elano and a controversial red card for Kaka, who picked up a second booking after Kader Keita collided with him and went down clutching his face. But the Brazilian should not have got involved in a scuffle a minute earlier. Sven-Goran Eriksson's Ivory Coast need to beat North Korea well to have any hope.
Portugal v North Korea - Group G - Cape Town
A rematch of the quarter-final from 1966, in which the Koreans led 3-0 before four goals from Eusebio inspired a dramatic turnaround and a 5-3 win. Portugal were desperately poor in their opening game against Ivory Coast and need more from Cristiano Ronaldo, who complained about a lack of protection in that game. Even North Korea's official press agency was impressed with their 2-1 defeat to Brazil, and they have the fitness and organisation to make like difficult for their opponents.
Chile v Switzerland - Group H - Port Elizabeth
The Group H pacesetters go head-to-head. Chile, inspired by Udinese forward Alexis Sanchez, played some of the most attractive football of the tournament against Honduras, but face an altogether sturdier proposition in Ottmar Hitzfeld's Switzerland. The Swiss are on a high after shocking the favourites Spain 1-0, and have striker Alex Frei available after injury, although he is expected to start on the bench.
Spain v Honduras - Group H - Johannesburg
It is win or bust for the much-vaunted favourites after their loss to Switzerland. The good news is that Honduras's display against Chile suggests they will not provide too much resistance. Better still for Vicente Del Bosque, he has Fernando Torres back and the Liverpool striker should start up front - probably at the expense of David Silva. Jesus Navas and Cesc Fabregas are also pushing for inclusion. Wigan left-back Maynor Figueroa, deployed in the middle at international level, could be in for a busy evening.
Water cooler chat: England's crisis meeting
We weren't supposed to know about this Sunday night summit, but John Terry let slip about it in a press conference that cannot have pleased Fabio Capello. The former captain not only revealed the whole squad would be sat down in front of the 93-minute video nasty that was the 0-0 draw against Algeria, he also claimed players would not be shy in voicing their opinions on what went wrong. He even drew parallels with the French squad, from which Nicolas Anelka was sent home in disgrace for insulting the manager. Terry said: "Maybe a few of us will be sent home after this evening." While we do not yet know the outcome of the crisis meeting, we certainly know what the papers think of Terry's performance: It's mutiny!
What to say: "‘Maybe a few of us will be sent home after this evening.' How's Wednesday?"
What not to say: "Not the first time an England squad have sat down to watch 93 minutes of filth."
World Cup jargon: Cauchemar
French for 'nightmare', which is exactly what the French are having. Here is their weekend in a nutshell:
Thursday: Nicolas Anelka and coach Raymond Domenech have a blazing row at half-time during France's 2-0 defeat to Mexico. Anelka is promptly substituted.
Saturday morning: Sports daily L'Equipe reveals the row, claiming Anelka told Domenech to: 'Go f*** yourself, dirty son of a whore'.
Saturday afternoon: Anelka is kicked out of the squad after reportedly refusing to apologise. He denies the words attributed to him and states his anger that the argument was leaked from the sanctity of the dressing room.
Saturday evening: France captain Patrice Evra appears at a press conference with French Federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes and team director Jean-Louis Valentin. Evra says: "The problem of France is not Anelka, but the traitor among us."
Sunday morning: The team press conference is cancelled, yet bizarrely Domenech and an emotional Franck Ribery appear on French television, where they get a grilling from 1998 champion Bixente Lizarazu among others.
Sunday lunchtime: Armageddon. Evra scuffles with fitness coach Robert Duverne, the man believed to be the 'traitor' by the players, and Domenech separates the pair. The players refuse to take part in a public training session and Evra hands a prepared statement to Domenech, who bizarrely reads it out to the assembled media. In it, the players voice their unanimous opposition to the banishment of Anelka, and hit out at the Federation for failing to protect the squad. They return to the team bus and draw the curtains. Rumours abound that Domenech has been denied entry.
Sunday afternoon: Valentin quits his position with the Federation, saying: "It's a scandal for French people, for the youngsters who came here to watch them train. I'm resigning, I'm leaving the Federation. I have nothing more to do here. I'm going back to Paris."
Sunday evening: The Federation releases a statement apologising to fans for the players' "unacceptable behaviour". It also disputes the players' claim that Anelka did not get the opportunity to explain himself, claiming Evra was present at a "long interview" with Anelka before his expulsion. Somebody is lying.
As in most residential areas in Johannesburg, the apartment block, which has at least 12 other families, has a fence, a gate, and 24-hour guards. When the Kayumbas arrived at the house in their black BMW X3 the guards, who are at the house 24 hours, opened the gate.
As they drove in, an unidentified man ran behind the car and knocked on the driver’s window. Surprised, the driver stopped and rolled down the window. When the window was halfway down, the man suddenly drew a pistol and fired at Gen. Kayumba, who was in the front passenger seat. The bullet struck Gen. Kayumba in the stomach, just below the lungs.
With Kayumba rapidly losing strength, the gunman then pulled the trigger again but the pistol jammed. He tried again without success. Gen. Kayumba’s legs gave away and he collapsed in a pool of blood. By this time the driver had come around and also tried to wrestle the gun from the gunman. An eyewitness said the gunman, speaking in Kiswahili, told the driver to leave him alone, warning that he would kill him if he did not let him be. Seeing that the gun had jammed and the fracas was attracting attention in the area, the gunman then ran back outside, jumped into a waiting car, which then sped off. Throughout all this time, the guards at the apartment block were nowhere to be seen. They would later reappear and claim that they had ducked for their own safety.
Upstairs in the Kayumba household, the general’s two teenage children were watching television. They were shocked out of their fantasy world when they heard screaming – probably from their mother – and dashed outside to find their father lying in a pool of blood. With the help of a couple of neighbours, Rosette and her children helped Gen. Kayumba into the car and sped him off to Morningside Clinic, about 10 minutes away, in Sandton, where he was immediately put on a respirator while doctors worked furiously to stop the bleeding.
As relatives, friends and other Rwandans living in Johannesburg started trickling into the hospital, so did the rumours and the speculation of who might have done it. Johannesburg has one of the highest crime rates in the world. Carjacking and robbery are widespread, as is murder.
Yet the gunman who shot Kayumba did not ask for the keys to the Beamer, neither did he take anything. His decision to go round the car and try to shoot Gen. Kayumba again suggests that he was a man with a license – or call it mission – to kill. As expected, many eyes have turned to Rwanda.
In an interview with the BBC, Rosette Nyamwasa accused President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, who her husband fell out with, of having a hand in the shooting. “[Mr Kagame] said it in parliament that he will actually kill my husband, that wherever he is he will follow him and kill him,” she told the BBC. But Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwanda’s Foreign minister, issued a statement in which she said Mr Kagame’s government “does not condone violence”.
Sources in the South African police, who spoke anonymously in order not to jeopardise an on-going investigation, said that they are “keeping all options open” on whether it was “an assassination attempt”. By press time, doctors in Morningside said Gen. Kayumba was in a stable condition, despite the bullet that struck him still being lodged in his body. Doctors will decide later on whether to remove it or not. It will be several weeks, even months, before an official report is issued over the shooting but according to many visitors to the Morningside Clinic, the bullet that struck Gen. Kayumba was not fired by a robber but by a would-be assassin.
•Obtained a Bachelor’s degree from Makerere University (in the 80s) after taking A-level examinations at Mbarara High School in western Uganda. He was a resident of Lumumba Hall while at the university.
•In 1984, he joined the National Resistance Army rebel group, then headed by President Museveni, and later the Rwanda Patriotic Army/Front that took over government after the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
•Gen. Nyamwasa headed RPF’s military intelligence during its bush days and was later named the army Chief of Staff.
•In 2001, he was sacked as the military chief and replaced with Gen. James Kabarebe. The general was, in November 2002, re-deployed as Head of Security Services.
•A couple of years later, Gen. Nyamwasa was appointed Rwanda’s High Commissioner to India. Early this year, he fled from Kigali during a government retreat in Rubavu. The Rwandan government immediately stripped him of diplomatic immunity after the defection that stirred suspicion with neighbours.
The French media and public have slammed their national team as the "laughing stock of the world", a "big farce" and Nicolas Anelka as "enfant terrible"after the football team refused to train on Sunday over the decision to send the star striker home.
Once dubbed "Le Sulk" by English media for his surly attitude, Anelka was sent home by the French Football Federation after he refused to apologise for his expletive-filled outburst at coach Raymond Domenech. Anelka called Domenech "a dirty son of a whore", sports daily L'Equipe reported.
In a twist, it was the deeply unpopular coach who was left to read out the team statement after they walked out from the training base, ironically dubbed the "Field of Dreams". The French team was already under fire for their underwhelming performances against Uruguay and Mexico, which have placed them on the brink of an early World Cup exit - a shocking situation for the 1998 champions. The coach of French football club Sochaux said France was the "laughing stock of the world".
"The players today confirmed they do not deserve a place at the World Cup," ESPN reported Francis Gillot as saying. "Today I am thinking of the Irish - they should have been there in our place. The attitude (of the France squad) is both pathetic and disgraceful. Such words and acts should never occur in the dressing room. I find it pathetic that the players support a teammate who has insulted the coach.
L'Equipe asked in an editorial if the team know they still have a match to play against South Africa on Tuesday. "The World Cup of Les Bleus is transforming itself into a big farce. It is not (yet) over and it is unclear whether the players themselves are aware."
Bixente Lizarazu, a member of the victorious 1998 squad, compared the extraordinary events to cult TV series X-Files. "We're in an episode of X-Files, it's science fiction," he told RTL radio. "Everyone's losing it." Marcel Desailly, his teammate in that squad, told Britain's ITV: "We love this generation of players. We are really sad. It's a shame."
France24 wrote in an editorial that Anelka, who plays for Chelsea in the English Premier League, had a reputation for being the "enfant terrible of French football".
"While his individual talent is undeniable, Anelka has repeatedly failed to win over the hearts of his compatriots. His reputation as the enfant terrible of French football and his unsociable character kept him from being picked during the three previous World Cups."
Observers like Lizarazu were already furious at Anelka's casual attitude during France's first two games against Uruguay and Mexico. "What bothers me is Nicolas Anelka's performance in the first half. I saw a player strolling ... strolling in the World Cup!" Lizarazu said. "He wasn't aggressive, wasn't interested in the game. Domenech took him off at the break, but should have done so before. You shouldn't play in a selfish manner, you have to show you're up for it."
Winner of the English Premier League's Golden Boot in 2008/09, Anelka has long been an enigmatic player for France. He scored twice in a stunning performance against England way back in 1999, but then refused to play under coach Jacques Santini. He spent three years out of the national team until Domenech called him back up in November 2005. Six months later, Domenech snubbed him for the 2006 squad. But Anelka seemed to have put that behind him when he scored a deflected goal against Ireland in a World Cup play-off last November.
Anelka's abrupt nature has made him few friends over a topsy-turvy career during which he has always spoken his mind. In 2003, Anelka reportedly said after he was rejected for Les Bleus by then-manager Santini: “I do not need the French squad. If he kneels before me and apologises, then I'll think about it.” But his unselfish attitude for Chelsea this season won him many admirers, and his reputation had greatly improved since his "Le Sulk" days.
The French press has churned out headline after headline on Les Bleus in the past week, calling them "the impostors", "disgraceful" and "pathetic" after their Mexico loss. "France woke up looking at a field of ruins - the national team - with a lump in their throat, a few tears in their eyes, but Les Bleus don't deserve it," wrote Fabrice Jouhaud, editor-in-chief of L'Equipe. "No sadness, no grief, above all no anger ... You can only laugh at the fact that those players are big in the head and not so big below the belt," he added. L'Equipe's football lead writer Vincent Duluc lamented that "the only thing left of a big dream and of a former great soccer country is the emptiness ... of a goalless first round ... the feeling of a total wreck, in game and spirit".
The other national newspapers were equally critical. "It was Waterloo in the Limpopo", wrote the conservative Le Figaro referring to Napoleon's defeat in 1815 and to the South African province where the game took place. France Soir claimed that "Les Bleus shamed France" and added: "If all the rumours buzzing around them are confirmed they will deserve the title of worst internationals in the history of France football, maybe not as players but surely as men." Le Monde, one of the most respected newspapers in France, drew a parallel between "les Bleus vanquished, humiliated, pilloried" and 2010 France. "Their (Les Bleus) lack of leadership, strategy, team spirit ... all these spoiled talents, these unused resources form the cruel metaphor of a country that is often struggling to gather together, overcome glumness and division, and mobilise its strength," the paper said in an unsigned editorial.
Domenech, whose popularity has plummeted since the unexpected high of reaching the 2006 World Cup final, said whatever happened, Les Bleus needed to exit the tournament with their heads held high. "It is for us to simply show something, to be able to say 'we played to the end, we never let up'. That would appear to be the most important thing for me," said Domenech after the team's defeat against Mexico.
Barbier summed up the nation's frustration with Les Bleus, asking: "The real question is: where is the team? Whether it's Domenech or the star players, if there is no team to begin with, there is no soul."
The French squad is expected to train today, but behind closed doors, The Guardian newspaper reported. They are also expected to take to the field for their crunch game against the host nation.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
So far so drab. Good pressing from the Ivory Coast denies ball players Kaka and Robinho space. The Africans are very compact and the Brazilians' best options are out wide, particularly Maicon. It has been very fashionable to praise Sven-Goran Eriksson since England's meltdown, and I'll add this: the Swede makes his teams very hard to beat. No shots on target for either side. Both sets of subs have blankets on their knees, though not the tartan ones modelled by France.
BANG. Luis Fabiano opens the scoring with his team's first real chance. Clinical finish into the roof of the net from a man who had gone nine games without scoring for his country. Didier Drogba goes down. Nothing new there, but the fact he is nursing a broken arm means his writhing elicits genuine concerns. Turns it was just a regulation Drogba moment. Now they trail, the Ivory Coast will have to commit players forward. Or, judging by Sven's England reign, they won't. As the half-time whistle goes, an Ivorian player asks Lucio to swap shirts.
Maicon tweaks his groin. Ah well, let's just get Daniel Alves off the bench, then. In fact, let's not. Maicon is OK and the second-best right-back in the world returns to his blanket. Then Luis Fabiano doubles his tally with an individual goal that at first looks like a superior version of Gazza's versus Scotland at Euro '96. However the replay shows the striker got away with at least two handballs en route to goal. Spoilsport TV. Kaka finally arrives at the World Cup, hitting a shot on target after great interplay with Robinho, then sets up Elano for the third goal. Dismal defending, mind, Then ouch. Not sure we needed all those HD super-slomos of Elano's injury.
Three-nil down and Sven has yet to make his move. Does he not realise goal difference could very easily decide second place in this group? At last Drogba pulls one back after being left as unmarked as a police vehicle on covert operations. Then Kaka picks up the silliest booking of the World Cup so far for shoving an opponent, and doubles up a minute later after a nothing clash with Kader Keita. That earns him at least a one-match ban. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Even if he didn't deserve the second booking, he shouldn't have got involved in the initial confrontation (before the Keita incident) that got him the first yellow. It inflamed tensions and contributed to his admittedly unlucky downfall a couple of minutes later. Pretty brazen playacting by Keita, though, who is going to get slaughtered by the media.
Easy for Brazil, who were efficient and sporadically exciting. They might not have hit their full stride yet, but it's easier to analyse your shortcomings when you have five goals and six points to your name. In any case, it's very selfish of us to want Brazil to play the all-swaggering devil-may-care style they did in the 70s and 80s - a time when they repeatedly got caught out and did not win the silverware their talent merited. A 'sensible' Brazil side won the 1994 and 2002 World Cups, and this is another one.
As long as FIFA don't extend Kaka's ban, and there's no reason why they should, he will only miss the Portugal game. Could be worse.The bigger concern is Elano's injury, which looks like it could end his tournament. No matter. The South American teams in this tournament are still unbeaten, and Brazil are in the last 16.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Friday, June 18, 2010
Argentina 4-1 South Korea - Group B - Soccer City
Two wins out of two now for Diego Maradona’s side, who played with real swagger and togetherness, and have been installed as co-favourites along with Spain and Brazil. Park Chu-Young deflected a free-kick into his own net early on, before Gonzalo Higuain headed the second just after the half-hour mark. Bolton’s Lee Chung-Yong pulled one back against the run of play just before the break. Higuain tapped in from close range after Lionel Messi hit the post, before Higuain completed his hat-trick with another header to round off a brilliant team move.
Greece 2-1 Nigeria - Group B - Bloemfontein
Greece’s first World Cup win came after Nigeria self-destructed having gone in front. Kalu Uche’s long-range free-kick somehow eluded everyone and found the net early on, but it all changed when Sani Kaita was sent off for a senseless studs-up kick on Vassilis Torosidis. Dimitris Salpingidis equalised with a deflected free-kick late in the first-half. Chinedu Ogbuke missed an open goal before the previously brilliant Vincent Enyeama spilled a shot from the edge of the box and Vasilis Torosidis tucked away the rebound.
France 0-2 Mexico - Group A - Polokwane
It would be nice to focus on a vibrant Mexican display, but you simply cannot ignore how atrocious the French were. Dressing room splits came boiling over as a divided, sullen-faced Bleus side sulked their way through the game. Thierry Henry sat morosely, shivering on the bench under a tartan blanket, while Patrice Evra tore off his captain’s armband at the end having been left for dead by Pablo Barrera. New Manchester United signing Javier Hernandez beat the offside trap to score the first, before Cuauhtemoc Blanco scored a penalty after Eric Abidal upended Barrera.
Germany v Serbia - Group D - Port Elizabeth
Joachim Loew’s side impressed greatly in their 4-0 demolition of Australia, and can all but book their place in the last 16 if they take care of a Serbia side who lost their opener to Ghana. Germany are expected to be unchanged, although Cacau has put Miroslav Klose under pressure. Serbia must replace Aleksandar Lukovic who saw red against Ghana, although coach Radomir Antic must be tempted to make multiple changes after a dismal performance.
Slovenia v USA - Group C - Johannesburg
The country with the smallest population of any at the World Cup know a second win will book them a place in the last 16. They face a nation with 154 times as many people (308m versus 2m) but they took down Russia in qualifying, and hopes are high. US goalkeeper Tim Howard is carrying a rib injury sustained during his superb display against England, but will play. A draw is a good result for England, while a Slovenia win also means Fabio Capello’s men control their own fate in terms of topping the group.
England v Algeria - Group C - Cape Town
Deep breath. Part two. On paper, a mediocre Algeria side should not pose much of a threat, but in practice it promises to be tough going. Robert Green may lose his place in goal to David James, while Gareth Barry returns in midfield at James Milner’s expense. Fabio Capello seems set to stick with much-maligned target man Emile Heskey, while we can expect better from Wayne Rooney. Jamie Carragher is favourite to partner John Terry at the back. Algeria are without Abdelkader Ghezzal, who was sent off shortly after coming off the bench against Slovenia.
Water-cooler chat: What on earth is up with the French?
Let this be a warning to everyone - if a team with individuals as good as Lloris, Evra, Malouda, Ribery, Anelka and Henry can come unstuck, so can you. Captain Patrice Evra seemed to stop trying, Thierry Henry never got a look-in and the substitutes went for a jog behind the goal and stayed there as time wound down. Raymond Domenech is already leaving at the end of the tournament, but that has not saved him from an absolute savaging from the press. They are not out yet, but most Frenchmen and women will just be pleased to get it over with. Irish fans denied by the Hand of Frog last autumn can be forgiven their smiles.
What to say: “Now the French are demanding an apology from Henry for getting them to the World Cup.”
What not to say: “Chin up Raymond, Liverpool are looking for a manager.”
World Cup jargon: Carve-up
When two teams contrive to produce a mutually beneficial result. The most famous of these came in 1982, when West Germany played Austria. If the Germans won 1-0 or 2-0, they would both reach the knock-out stages at Algeria’s expense. They duly went 1-0 up and both sides stopped trying - it was one of the World Cup’s most shameful moments. Next Tuesday, a draw between Mexico and Uruguay will guarantee both sides go through to the last 16, sending France and South Africa out. Now I’m not suggesting the two teams would collude over the outcome of the game - just pointing out that when one result suits both teams, it inevitably becomes, well... more likely.
ADDENDUM: Not long after writing this, it seems Germany and Serbia are guilty of the offence, with Germany blatantly missing a penalty and throwing the game in an apparent attempt to kick Ghana out of South Africa 2010...