Mike Gibbons is an aspiring young journalist
from the UK who has followed the World Cup with passion from an early age. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
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The usual suspects line up for the quarter-finals
Wake up, the Ukraine and Switzerland game has finished. Rub your eyes, put a pot of coffee on and shake yourself from your slumber. Donít worry you didnít miss anything, the Ukraine won 3-0 on penalties. There was a game before it, but you probably dozed off ten minutes in. You did the right thing.
How on earth Iím supposed to write anything about that I donít know. I said in a previous column that Bolivia against South Korea was the most boring game in World Cup history, but last nightís encounter in Cologne made it look like a free flowing display of open attacking football. What on earth possesses teams to play like that? I know fear is a factor, but come on this is the World Cup. Itís potentially a once in a lifetime opportunity. If the Ukraine intends to play like that against Italy in Hamburg on Friday we should all petition FIFA immediately to have them slung out of the tournament on their boring behinds and weíll reinstate the Ivory Coast or Mexico. As for Switzerland, well they may pat themselves on the back for not conceding a goal in four games but if they play like that hosting Euro 2008 even their own fans wonít turn up. Good riddance.
There is an argument that, Shevchencko apart, there wasnít enough talent on display to make a game of it. A paradox was the Holland versus Portugal game on Sunday, where there was bags of talent on the pitch but they both decided to kick the living daylights out of each other rather than play football. Four red cards and sixteen bookings are the gory details, but in truth the referee Valentin Ivanov had little option. Predictably Sepp Blatter was on hand in true rent-a-quote style to criticise him, but who makes up these laws on punishing lunging, petty handbags and diving? This is YOUR game Mr Blatter, taken to its logical conclusion. Amidst the mayhem Maniche scored a fine goal to settle the game, the disappointing Dutch go home (although Iím glad to see the back of the pathetic bambi-on-ice antics of Arjen Robben) and Portugal advance even though they look less than convincing up front and must now do without Costinha and Deco.
Waiting for them in Gelsenkirchen will be England, who laboured to victory again courtesy of a free-kick from David Beckham. The introduction of Michael Carrick helped the midfield to pass the ball more, but after seeming so settled a year ago England are now back to looking like a work in progress. The bionic Wayne Rooney managed a full ninety minutes, was a constant menace and seems to be slipping into form at just the right time. Despite another clean sheet England have suddenly started to look alarmingly unsure of themselves at the back and can expect a far sterner examination on Saturday from Figo, Pauleta and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The best quarter-final on the menu so far is Germany against Argentina in Berlin this Friday. Germany were outstanding in dismantling Sweden in the opening twelve minutes last Saturday although they were aided by some defending more commonly seen on playgrounds. The Swedes all chased the ball like children and were punished ruthlessly by Podolski as this young, dynamic German team builds up momentum. Lahm was superb again, Ballack just drips with class and this forward minded team look guaranteed to provide goals in any game they play in. Their exuberance has captured the imagination of the crowds, and their manic, flag-waving devotion recalls the atmosphere the Stadio Olimpico in Rome provided for the Azzurri in Italia 90.
All told, they have yet to face a team of real quality and their next opponents have that and much more. Argentina were superb in victory over Mexico on Saturday night, with Maxi Rodriguez claiming another great goal with his dipping volley in extra-time. It was harsh on Mexico, for whom Rafael Marquez was, again, outstanding. Can a player eliminated in round two really be a contender for the Golden Ball? You could certainly make a valid case for him, as he would undoubtedly walk into any team in this tournament. The Mexicans have been highly entertaining in this tournament and were unlucky to run into a team of this calibre so early. As for Argentina, they are looking ominous. They can blow teams away, we knew that, but now they have proved they can dig in, come from behind and hold their nerve in the tight games. All eyes are on the Olympiastadion for a potential thriller.
Other than the surprise elimination of the Czech Republic, a downfall partly brought about by injuries, this World Cup refuses to stray from the form book. When Italy went down to ten men against Australia yesterday it seemed like there could be a real upset about to happen, but Italy are far too savvy for that. Continuing to play on the break they picked off an Australian team that did not have the imagination to work the man advantage with a controversial but justifiable late penalty from Francesco Totti. Surprisingly dropped before the match, he came on as a late substitute and secured himself redemption for his disgraces of the past two tournaments.
As per script in this World Cup, the minnow is crushed by the superpower. From the outset it looked like the big European sides plus Argentina and Brazil would take over this tournament and so it has proved. Australia, Ecuador and Mexico have given us great stories but come the knockout rounds they have been removed post haste. The Ukraine by dint of a soft draw and their slow dance with Switzerland take up the traditional quarter-final berth occupied by a middleweight European team. Should Brazil remove Ghana this afternoon the dream of the underdog is over for this World Cup. The 2002 World Cup gave us Senegal, USA, Turkey and South Korea in the quarter-finals. The big boys are back with a vengeance this time around.
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