Weight of expectation

There’s been a collective weeping, wailing and beating of breasts in France today after their football team lost 2-0 to Mexico. Most have them on the plane home already. I’ve no idea what L’Equipe made of it as there were no copies available today in the local newsagents. Maybe, they decided not to publish in protest. The Nice Matin called it “Honteux” (disgraceful) and most players, with the exceptions of Lloris and Malouda, who both scored 5, were awarded less than 4. I think the manager was a definite “nul” points.

Still, that’s not been the only surprise. I watched a bit of the Spain v Switzerland game. The Spanish were passing the ball around beautifully while the Swiss employed that time honoured tactic of the underdog: 11 men behind the ball. It worked. Casillas, the Spanish goalkeeper, fell asleep from boredom  and let in a Swiss goal.

Germany, who started brightly by scoring 4 goals in their first match, lost Klose and went down 1-0 this afternoon to the Serbs.

England, meanwhile,  laboured against Algeria, a team you could buy with the sale proceeds of Emile Heskey and still have change over. We’ve maintained our unbeaten run, but I’m pretty sure this was not what Fabio Capello ordered as his birthday treat. At times there was more action from the bench than on the pitch as he agonised, grimaced and gesticulated over England’s performance.

While David James looked commanding in yellow, back in his rightful place between the goalposts, the same could not be said of many of his teammates. Rooney was rubbish, Lampard lacklustre and Gerrard, by his own admission, lacked courage. It’s still all to play for next Wednesday afternoon against Serbia, a team that has already beaten Algeria.

The pundits have worked out that if England draw 2-2 against Serbia, and USA draw 0-0 with Algeria, the winner will be decided by drawing lots. Given our luck with games of chance and penalties, we’ll be keeping France company on the plane back.

It’s started

I’d been finding it hard to work up any enthusiasm for the World Cup but once it kicked off on Friday I found myself naturally taking an interest. I watched France v Uruguay, a  tense match with few opportunities for either side. The French played some very attractive football but the tournament will not be decided on artistic impression and technical merit. The French press have castigated the manager and the players for their unimaginative play. In particular, Yoann Gourcuff, who even I admit did not have a good game,  was singled out for some harsh criticism.

This was not the only opener decided by a draw. USA v England, where two of my beloved boys in claret & blue were on England duty, resulted in a 1-1 draw. Emile Heskey played a blinder (technical term), easily his best appearance in an England shirt. While James Milner (being heavily courted by Man City), still suffering from the after-effects of an illness, was off the pace and substituted in the first half. Again, the England boys came in for some criticism from the press.  Take no notice boys, what do they know?

I managed to get tickets for the previous World Cup. My beloved and I saw one of the opening games, Brazil v Croatia, in Berlin. It was a mediocre match, played in a magnificent stadium, with the spectators providing a fantastic atmosphere. Indeed, we spent a long weekend  in Berlin watching matches on the big screen, just soaking up the atmosphere. Everything was brilliantly and efficiently organised by the Germans. The weather was warm and sunny and there was a real sense of carnival and occasion to the proceedings. I’m sure the same can be said of proceedings in South Africa.

The final of that World Cup was played the night before my beloved’s first attempt at l’Etape du Tour. We watched the match in a bar in Briancon, not far from where we were staying. After the match, I was approached by a young French boy in floods of tears. Well, they had just lost to the Italians. However, that wasn’t why he was crying. He’d become detached from his father and sister in the crowds. So I sat with him, calmed him down and tried to contact his father on my mobile. This proved fruitless as he was obviously ringing anyone and everyone to see if they’d seen his son. Fortunately, before too long he was reunited with his elder sister who had retraced her steps to try and find him.

This week I’ve been watching Alberto Contador and the Astana team in the Criterium du Dauphine. Bert said he’d come to test his condition, many thought he was sandbagging. He wasn’t. He won two stages, including the queen stage, which finished on L’Alpe d’Huez, the points jersey and was 2nd on GC. The race was won by Janez Brajkovic who having been let off the leash by Bruyneel, confirmed his earlier promise. However, don’t read too much into this. Come 3 July, Contador will be at the top of his game and primed to retain his Tour crown, ably assisted by his Astana team mates led by Alexandre Vinokourov. While only death and taxes are certainties, Bert to win the Tour isn’t too far off.