It is time for the Golden Generation to fulfill the expectations of the nation. And I refer not to the Portuguese. This afternoons clash in Gelsenkirchen, home of Schalke 04, casts the the underachievers of England against the nearly men of Portugal.
The Portuguese have at least delivered partially. Two FIFA World Youth Championships were followed by the 2004 European Championships Final defeat by Greece. England on the other hand, have been talking the talk since Japan / Korea 2002 and never threatened to deliver. Today is the day when that must change. Eriksson is desperate to go out on a high, knowing that his reputation and bank balance would seriously enhanced by getting England to their first final in forty years. Small matter of winning today and then on Wednesday aside, this is his last chance. Also, I would hope that he wants to be able to shove a middle finger in the direction of media hacks who have harrassed him during his reign. However to do that, his charges must play considerably better than anything shown previously in this tournament as I doubt that the Iberians will allow them a moments peace on the pitch. Whilst Ronaldo would be the obvious target for the English, Rooney is equally combustible and with a considerably shorter fuse.
The managers could not be more opposite. Eriksson, passionless and passive on the bench, whilst Scholari is animated, exhorting his troops to greater heights, continually “at” the officials chivvying them, trying to influence their thinking in his favour. He has a remarkable record of eleven straight World Cup wins and the perfect opportunity to show the FA what a complete balls up of the recruitment process for the next England manager they made. I still cannot understand the haste in replacing the Swede, Barwick hell-bent on a quick solution which he can now regret at his leisure.
The first semi final is to be between Italy and Germany, a repeat of the 1982 Final but I would prefer a match that equalled the 1970 semi-final, Italy victorious 4 – 3 after extra time. The hosts won a tense match against Argentina, Jens Lehmann the hero with two saves in the penalty shootout. This could have been avoided if Ballack had planted his header into the net in the first half rather than a couple of yards wide of the post. However, the abiding memory will be of the bust-up at the end of the match with the Argentineans exploding with frustration. Cufre was sent off and several others punching and kicking their way into International Bans. Maxi Rodriguez is photographed attempting to bitch-slap Schweinsteiger from behind, something that would leave the South American requiring several weeks of hospital treatment if he had tried that on the streets of most towns, cities and villages around the world. Pekerman cocked up his substitutions by bringing off Riquelme and replacing him with a defensive midfielder rather than Messi, leaving the Argentine forward line stranded without a creative force in the middle of the pitch. An injury to Abondizierri meant he was replaced by Leo Franco of Atletico Madrid, his first task should have been to at least defend his goal against a freekick chipped into the six yard box, instead he nearly strained his neck watching Schweinsteiger’s shot sail about twenty feet over the bar. In the end though, a typically well taken Klose header forced an additional thirty minutes and the shootout. Italy meanwhile cruised through against an uninspiringly dull Ukraine, who if England are negative, then I dread to think what Blatter thinks of them. Absolutely abysmal, conceding an early goal would normally bring a team out of it’s shell whereas the Ukranians were intent of just keeping the score down. The match ended with two second half goals in a five minute spell just after the hour mark. Perhaps someone can explain why talented players make for dour managers; George Graham’s Arsenal were the antithesis of his playing style whilst Blokhins Ukraine bear no resemblance to his career. Yes, I know that the players at their disposal may not be as talented as when the managers were themselves competing on the pitch but surely the desire to win must be coupled with winning in style – one of the reasons why Chelsea are not the much admired team they ought to be.
In describing Sepp Blatter, it has been said that he has 100 bad ideas every day. Personally, I like to think that if he had an original thought it would die of loneliness. His most recent utterances were to criticise England for being negative through playing only one forward. This despite the fact that no other midfield at the World Cup has scored more goals domestically. However, more worringly, every day proves more and more how little Blatter actually knows about the game despite being involved all his life and for the last thirty years at the highest level in the Ruling Body. It is testament to his political skills that he has managed to avoid being called to order over the various allegations made by his colleagues and journalists although his style would probably be more akin to Don Corleone, offers cannot be refused. At least his organisation got one thing right this week; Arsenal cleared by FIFA of any wrongdoing over the Beveren “non-affair”. As of yet, Newsnight have not commented, perhaps for fear of being made to look even more stupid than they already are. Despite denials, it still reeks of a Spurs fan trying to get his team to Europe’s top table, something the team were not able to achieve on the pitch.
Todays Tunes are from REM, In The Attic, a bootleg of alternative recordings from 1985 – 1989.
The tracklisting is:
Finest Worksong / Driver 8 / Gardening At Night / Swan Swan H / Disturbance At The Heron House / Maps And Legends / Tired Of Singing Trouble / Just A Touch / Toys In The Attic / All I Have To Do Is Dream / The One I Love / Crazy / Can’t Get There From Here / Last Date / Time After Time (Medley)