So it’s the end of my world cup, and a nice way to end it is flying home with an unexpected upgrade to business class on British Airways. As I tuck into a rather nice sauvignon blanc, I share with you some parting thoughts.

Given the stunningly corrupt politics of FIFA, this will be the last World Cup in Europe for a very long time, so I am bloody glad I went to this one. The reason this one ended up in Germany is down to a no-nonsense septuagenarian Kiwi named Jack Dempsey voting with his brain rather than with FIFA’s instruction sheet.

This World Cup was meant to be in South Africa, but Jack thought that a basic pre-requisite of hosting a World Cup was that downtown ‘Fan-Zones’ should be free of weapons fire. I wish the South Africans all the best in hosting the next one. But just as England and Brazil did not deserve to go further than the quarters, no country or continent deserves to host the World Cup. You have to be able to do it right. Make no mistake, the Germans did it right and I had a blast. Given Cooley’s last posting about the Quarter final games I shall refrain from very late post game commentary and instead do something else.

Step back about two weeks and Cooley, and the English lads, and me are in this rather swish cocktail bar doing nothing much in particular. Sitting behind us were a bunch of Swedish fans. So we were quite surprised when a 24 of the German police’s finest (and biggest) arrived in the bar. Eight stayed outside, backs to the bar to block entrance. 16 came into the bar (and it’s a small place) and surrounded two tables of Swedish fans. It was just then that one of the Swedish fans, standing next to me at the bar, started talking into his mobile in a language that was decidedly un-Swedish. I had a look around and then noticed that none of these Swedish ‘fans’ looked like a typical Swedish fan. (By this I mean, somewhat blonde, portly, over 40, about six foot tall, and so dense that when I was going home one night I caught a snippet of conversation on OB Strasse that went like this;

Woman, about 25, wearing thigh high white stiletto boots, mini skirt, little else:
“No, you don’t understand, I’m talking to you because I am a prostitute.”

Two Swedes – simultaneously: “Really?”

Anyway, back to the bar. So then I notice that most of these Swedish fans seems to completely unfazed by 16 very big heavily armed German cops. They sat there staring them out. And then I noticed that they all had one thing in common, serious tattoos and necks thinker than their heads. Yip – the real deal – world class hooligans. Since we were regarded as ‘zero threat’ by the cops, I discretely asked one of them what was going on. He replied that they had received Interpol info on these guys and were following them round, making it clear that they knew who and where they were, and that nothing as simple as changing shirts would throw them off the scent. Impressive policing indeed. Its nice to know that there really is no such thing as a gang of seriously organized Swedish hooligans (Apologies to Gothenburg FC Ultras – if they have any.)

All of which brings me to England’s world cup ‘campaign.’ As I mentioned in a previous post (or at least you could extrapolate this from what was there), I find it hard, as a Scot, to hate England. Not support – hate. I know I am supposed to, but really, I can’t. Its hard to watch the premier league every week and then hope the players you watch fail. So along with my English mates I watched them do what they usually do. That is, fail to meet anything like their nation’s collective expectations.

To recap: Ecuador 1-0. Piss poor second half, Owen flakes, sub-par performance but everyone (even Brazil) is allowed a bad opener. Trinidad and Tobago 2-0. As my friend Peter put it “I can’t believe it. Its 80 minutes and we are being held 0-0 by a 4 star holiday resort, hotel and pool complex.” The eventual 2-0 scoreline flattered them. Sweden 2-2. Owen down and out inside five minutes, some decent passing first half but shocking defending and distribution. Portugal, Quarter final, 1-3. I missed most of the first half of this ironically traveling to Coimbra in Portugal. I had to watch the second half in the train station bar surrounded by the locals. Rooney looses it (stop blaming Ronaldo, he did what any cheating-diving opposition player would do, and Rooney DID stamp on Carvahlo’s nuts. Last time I checked that was a sending-off offense) and England get stuffed on penalties, which brings me back to Germany.

They lost in the semi’s. I was gutted. I really wanted them to win it. Actually, what I really wanted was England to reach the final and for Germany to beat them on penalties, thus ensuring another ‘40 years of hurt’ (you see, there is still some Scot in me). If Germany had won it would have meant so much to a country that badly needs a confidence boost. In my opinion they played some of the most attractive (read – standing up in tackles, not falling over, and playing as a team) football of the tournament. In fact, a headline in one of the German papers put it well “Germany – the New England. England – The Old Germany.” Germany lost because, as my wife put it, they began to realize that they could win it, and so they began to play conservatively, like the Old Germany – and Italy had read that script before.

What I think these episodes show (not that this is any revelation) is just how much of football comes down to belief. Brazil believed their Nike generated hype and forgot that they actually had to play football and not just show up if they wanted to win. Germany under Klinsmann believed that they were better than everyone said, and they showed that. Once they got to where they expected, the semi-finals, their belief took one step back (as seen in the lack of shots on goal from the Germans in contrast to the exuberance that characterized their game against Sweden) and they paid for it. For England, their may have been three lions on their shirt, but there was never three lions in their hearts, and that was their undoing. My English friend Alex Hamilton put this very well so I quote him here.

“Amid all the recriminations here [in England] I have read one thing which impressed me most, from the West Ham manager Alan Pardew. He just said one thing – the team seemed to play with fear. Where fear comes from I don’t know, but we are talking about impressionable young men (who isn’t at that age?), and I suspect in the world they inhabit, fear is not something they are used to. It is also something oft denied by the swagger whipped up by both the media and the male football establishment. So when it shows itself, it’s all the more powerful, disabling even. We all fell victim to it – of all the people I watched England games with, the overriding emotion swirling about was fear. Everyone remarks upon the fact watching England is not enjoyable any more, that the fear of losing outweighs the joy of the game…It strikes me that the job of men “managing” at the higher echelons of sport, be it the coach, the manager, the head of the association, whomever, is to deal with the issue of fear. Klinsmann gets ridiculed for his Californian connections and his psychologists, but I see a limited team who carry an enormous weight on their shoulders very lightly…I also look at the England player to emerge with most credit, and see someone outside of England not burdened by the pedestal others quite clearly were. And, tellingly, the one who seemed the fittest.”

I can only concur.

So its nearly all over. The final is on Sunday. I leave you now with some rather prescient quotes from my earlier posts and some observations on diving from my mate Jonathan.

Blyth on Italy: “If they win, they will do so by boring their way to the semis.” At least they were far from boring in the semis.

Blyth on Brazil: “Brazil are of course the greatest team in the world? Bollocks and my arse.”
“I would however just like to note however that when Ronaldinho did a perfectly ordinary back-heeled a pass along the line to a teammate in the second half, the way the stadium reacted you would think he had just done an overhead kick from 30 yards into the goal. They are going to have to do a lot better than this if they want to get past the quarters.” Enough said.

Blyth on Germany: “This game sent notice that the Germans are going all the way.” OK, an stretch, but a boy can hope.

On Diving at the World Cup © J. Hopkin (2006)

“How about Thierry Henry’s outrageous dive – bangs his chest into Puyol’s arm as it moves backwards in a normal running action, and then falls poleaxed clutching his face. Narrowly beaten only by that time Rivaldo fell over in agony because the ball hit his knee as he stood by the corner flag. Best dive this week, however, goes to Gianluca Pessotto, 15 meters out of his office window and straight into Roberto Bettega’s car. Looks like he’ll make it though. Bettega’s mechanic was not available for comment.”

Allez Les Blues!!!!