27 June 2006

Golazo of the Day

It has to go to the fat controller really, doesn't it? Ronaldo scored a classic goal to
make it 15 in total in three World Cups for him, taking the record from legendary
poacher Gerd Müller.

Lucio, as the deepest outfield player in the Brazil team, collects a pass from Juan in
front of his penalty area. As Amoah closes on him he passes it 15 metres forward to
the unmarked Kaka, who spins and drives forward into the Ghana half. Looking up
he sees Ronaldo primed to take off, so he opens up the angle of his body and slides
a ball through the disorganised Ghana defence. Ronaldo is off and clear. He controls
the ball, and as he advances on the penalty area the keeper Richard Kingson rushes
to the egde to greet him. The bald-headed one peforms a step over with his right
foot and then nips it past the keeper with his left foot to leave an open goal which he
hungrily accepts by stabbing the ball into the empty net with his yellow and green
clad right boot. The ball has travelled the full length of the pitch without leaving the
narrow central channel. Golazo for the fifteenth time for Ronaldo Luíz Nazário
de Lima, O Fenômeno.

Hero of the Day

He couldn't leave us without an encore, could he? With France struggling to find the
jigsaw let alone the last piece in this World Cup, and with the eminently retiring
Zinedine Zidane suspended from the last group game, there was a chance we'd seen
the last of the great man on a football pitch. Thanks to a herculean performance by
Patrick Vieira, the Ginger Rogers to ZZ's Fred Astaire, we were permitted that one
last chance to see La Castellane. He wouldn't disappoint.

Playing against the brio of Aragones's young Spanish team, Zidane displayed every
facet of his multi-carratted talent. Poise and precision marked every receipt and
release of the ball. He conducted his fellow midfielders in swamping the Spanish
armada, closing down the ball carrier in hungry packs. And when some of his team
mates started to feel the pressure he shouldered the responsibility and drove the
team forward with his runs. He also scored the late third goal that sealed the French

Puyol plays the ball forward to Cesc Fabregas on the halfway line where the young
midfielder of immense promise is harried by Zidane, Wiltord and Diarra. Zidane
makes the tackle and the ball breaks to Govou on the left wing, just inside his own
half. Govou drives into the Spanish half and infield, crossing with ZZ who drifts forward
and out to the left wing. Just as Fabregas chasing back nears, Govou passes the ball
forward to Wiltord who is marked by Puyol. With ZZ now level with Wiltord, the Lyon
forward releases a first time pass into his path. The ball bounces once and Zidane,
without breaking stride, controls it on his right thigh and continues his run in the in
side left channel into the penalty area. The hawk looks up twice, assessing the
angles, assessing the situation, assessing his prey. As Puyol desperately scrambles
across Zidane takes a small touch inside with his right foot to steady himself and then
cuts inside the Spanish central defender with another touch, gives Casillas the "eyes"
and slots the ball into the bottom left corner as the deceived goalkeeper dives in the
opposite direction. 3-1 and the quarter final awaits.

Anyone prepared to bet against there being three further curtain calls for Zizou the

Villain of the Day

Coming a close second is the Ghana coach, Ratomir Dujkovic, who encouraged his side
to play a high line offside trap against Brazil. He failed though to instill any concept of
the how to play the system into his team, and they were breached time after time
with the fullbacks metres behind the central defenders.

Joining the chorus of disapproval, the award for chief villain today goes to Thierry
Henry. In a pathetic attempt to get Carles Puyol sent off when the Spaniard slightly
blocked his run, Henry collapsed to the pitch clutching his face between his hands as
if he'd been elbowed. Henry had complained vociferously (and wrongly) about
Barcelona diving "like women" against his Arsenal team in the Champions League
Final. The French striker legend may think he's gained a modicum of personal revenge
for the perceived ills endured in Paris, but he has lost a tremendous amount of
hard-earned respect with it.

26 June 2006

Golazo of the Day

Though tempted to nominate Ukraine's lively young forward Artem Milevskiy for his
perfect Antonin Panenka impersonation, the safety net afforded by having a
minimum of four other penalty taking teammates relegates his effort below that of
today's winner.

Francesco Totti was dropped for Italy's clash with Australia, the playmaker clearly
struggling in the group games to rediscover form and fitness after breaking his leg in
February. With Italy down to ten men, and Del Piero tiring, Totti was thrown on for
the last 15 minutes. With a mere 14 seconds left of added time Fabio Grosso receives
the ball on the left wing deep in the Australian half. He cuts inside Marco Bresciano's
over-eager challenge, heads into the box near the byline and stumbles into and over
Lucas Neill, who after 92 minutes and 52 seconds of excellence has needlessly gone
to ground. The referee Luis Medina Cantalejo immediately awards a soft penalty. The
Roman gladiator steps up.

"My name is Francesco Pupone Totti, commander of the Armies of the Curva Sud,
General of the Azzurri Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Giuseppe Giannini.
Father to a new son, husband to a model wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this
life or the next."

Totti places the ball on the penalty spot and backs away. With intense concentration
he looks at the ball and then at the top left hand corner. His look returns to the ball
before again averting his eyes to the top left hand corner. He looks at the ball once
more and then turns his head to the ref, signalling it's time to unleash hell. The ref
blows his whistle and Totti runs from the edge of the box and arrows a powerful
right-footed shot high into the top left hand corner past the helpless Schwarzer.
Golazo and memories of Daejeon are expunged for player and country.

Hero of the Day

After Marco Materazzi's harsh sending off, the Italians had to hold off Gus Hiddink's
Australia for 40 minutes with ten men. There were many memorable performances
with Gianluigi Buffon, Gianluca Zambrotta and Fabio Cannavaro particularly
outstanding at the back. In front of them patrolled Gennaro Gattuso, energetically
peforming the work of two players. He tackled when he needed to tackle, intercepted
when an interception was demanded, and propelled the team forward with his driving
runs, allowing others to reorganise and reenergise. He'd have made an inspiring
Spartan at the Battle of Thermopylae.

Villain of the Day

This is awardly jointly to Oleg Blokhin and Koebi Kuhn, the managers of Ukraine and
Switzerland respectively. They inflicted upon the world 120 minutes of utter, utter
tedium. Neither of their teams was prepared to take a risk to win the match with
8 or 9 men behind the ball for huge stretches of play. Some managers grasp the
nettle to win a game; these two would fight shy of moss. If I ran FIFA I'd send both
teams home and reinvite the Ivory Coast to the party.

25 June 2006

Golazo of the Day

The only goal of the now infamous Netherlands-Portugal game was scored by Maniche,
who also scored the decisive goal to knock the orange cloggers out of Euro2004.

The excellent Miguel takes a throw in to Deco from the right touchline, about 20
metres into the Dutch half. Deco is closely marked by Sneijder, but manages to clip
the ball down the wing to Christiano Ronaldo before looping outside his team mate.
Ronaldo holds off the hustling Van Bronckhorst but is tackled by the lurking Sneijder.
Undaunted, the young Madeiran immediately wins back the ball, spins on a centavo,
and hits a pass down the wing to the advancing Deco. Looking up Deco sees Pauleta
move slighlty away from his markers near the penalty spot and hits a lateral pass
across the face of the Dutch defence, bypassing Van Bronckhorst, Mathijsen and
Ooijer. Pauleta controls the ball and stabs a short pass to the advancing Maniche on
the edge of the box. Maniche controls it left footed past the falling Boulahrouz, sides
steps Ooijer with a touch on the ball with the outside of his right foot and hammers a
right-footed shot into the right corner of the net. Golazo and a rose is found among
the Nürnberg thorns.

Hero of the Day

I was extremely tempted to give it to the Russian referee Valentin Ivanov for having
to deal with two squads of cheating, diving, fouling, violent thugs for 96 minutes.
However his loss of control early in the Portugal-Netherlands game contributed to
the unfolding mess. Great entertainment though. The hero of the day is therefore
Ashley Cole who kept England in the World Cup against Ecuador.

With the score at 0-0 on a sweltering day in Stuttgart, Geovanny Espinoza launches a
long ball from just outside his penalty box into the England half. Agustin Delgado
comes to meet it, leaving his marker Rio Ferdinand dozing in no man's land. Delgado
flicks the pass with his head onwards over Ferdinand towards Carlos Tenorio. John
Terry beats Tenorio to the ball but misjudges his clearance and, as he falls over,
sends his header looping high towards the penalty area. Tenorio sees his chance and
chases after the ball, kills it as it drops with excellent control in the inside left position
just inside the penalty area, and with Robinson rooted to the spot, curls a right-footed
shot towards the right hand side of the net. Ecuador 1-0 England. But no. Ashley Cole
arrives on an express train from nowhere with a 30 metre sprint, and slides full length
to block the shot with his right knee. The deflected shot loops onto the bar and behind
for a corner.

This was the pivotal moment in the game. Ecuador are built to protect an early lead,
with their neat passing and outlets down either wing. If they had gone 1-0 ahead,
they could have sat and passed all day forcing England to do all the running, and
eventually the English team would have wilted in the German heat. It was a vital
piece of committed defensive work by Cole.

Villain of the Day

How can I choose just one member of the cast from the Netherlands-Portugal card
fest? Van Bommel for his early cynical challenge which set the tone? Figo for his
headbutt? Kuyt and Robben for their dives? Deco for his scything act of revenge?
Boulahrouz for his thuggery? Costinha for his poor volleyball technique? No, I'm going
to ingore the match.

The villain of the day is David Beckham. Yes, I know he scored a decent freekick which
won the match for England, but given he takes every freekick England are awarded
and it was his first set piece goal in three years, it had the feeling of a long overdue,
monkey-penned Hamlet. The reason he enters the black book is he allowed his ego to
override the best interests of the team. He felt unwell before kick off but didn't tell
Eriksson or the back-up staff. He struggled through the first half, as he has much of
the tournament, threw up on the pitch early in the second half and then again after
scoring. When he was eventually substituted he was diagnosed as being dehydrated.
The first his manager knew of his captain's pre-game problems was when told by a
BBC reporter in a post-match interview. Total lunacy from the tattooed one.

"World Cup matchday, green about the gills,
The man with the foolish grin needs antiemetic pills.
But nobody wants to know him,
They can see that he's just a fool.
And he never gives an answer ....."

24 June 2006

Golazo of the Day

If any match deserved a deciding "golazo of golazos", it was the sublime match up between Argentina and Mexico. This was a game fitting of any World Cup Final; always absorbing, teasingly tactical, sizzingly sensational at times, and oscillating throughout the 120 minutes. Mexico will feel unlucky to have gone out at this stage as they should
have been playing against ten men for the entire second half. There were some outstanding individual performances from Los Tricolores, and kudos must go to Ricardo Osorio who was a dynamic presence at the back, and the peerless Rafael Marquez, who has been the player of the tournament. The Mexicans pressed the Argentinians all over the pitch, not allowing their opponents the time to get their passing game functioning to full effect. As the Mexicans tired as a result of these exertions, Argentina got stronger with their world class substitutes Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez to the fore.

In the 9th minute of extra time Messi twinkles up the right wing into the Mexico half, drifts inside and hits a left-footed pass to Riquelme who stands centrally on the edge of the centre circle. Riquelme returns the ball to Messi who is now 5 metres forward and to the right of his team mate. Messi, shining like a 100 watt light bulb on a hot sultry
summer's night, draws three Mexican midfield moths towards him and spreads the ball to his captain Sorin on the left wing. Sorin controls the ball and hits a 40 metre diagonal pass to the right apex of the Mexico penalty area where Maxi Rodriguez is marked by Pineda. Maxi controls the ball high on his chest taking it away from his marker and a couple of metres further from goal. Every molecule in the Maxi's body combines in sequence as the ball drops, and he hits a powerful, arcing dipping 30 metre volley on the turn into the opposite left top corner of the net. Golazo and the Argentine laundry gets another airing in the stands.

Hero of the Day

The German team continue to gather ominous momentum as they grasp the attacking gauntlet thrown down by Klinsmann. They have the best strike partnership in the Cup with Lucas Podolski, the two-goal hero against the Swedes, and Miroslav Klose, the tournament's top scorer, dovetailing beautifully. Behind them Bastian Schweinsteiger continues to impress with his youthful brio. The main man though is Michael Ballack whose presence in, and stamp on the tournament is growing by the day. Against Sweden he was everywhere, marshalling his troops with aplomb. Always available to receive a pass, he probed with intelligence and found himself in space on the edge of the box on endless occasions. If it wasn't for a world class performance by Swedish keeper Andreas Isaksson, Ballack could have scored a hattrick with his powerful, accurate shooting.

Villain of the Day

Both of today's referees come into focus for their villainy, without quite reaching the standards required to win the award. In the Germany-Sweden match the Brazilian referee Carlos Simon acquiesced to the demands of the card-waving German players, and awarded Teddy Lucic a second yellow card in the 35th minute for the act of breathing on Miroslav Klose on the halfway touchline. In the Argentina-Mexico exhibition of latin flair, Swiss ref Massimo Busacca watched as Gabriel Heinze allowed a pass from his keeper to run over his foot before chopping down Francisco Fonseca who had capitalised on the Argentine's mistake. Fonseca was clear on goal and it should have been a straight red but Busacca bottled it.

Cue fanfare. I open the golden envelope and reveal that the laurels of infamy go to Swedish manager Lars Lagerback. Sweden are 2-0 down to Germany in Munich and down to ten men, when Henrik Larsson is clumsily fouled in the penalty area by Christoph Metzelder. Larsson is left counting the blades of grass as the Germans indulge in the usual time-wasting tactics to delay the penalty, only to be joined in their tedious charade by Lagerback. Inexplicably the Swedish manager decides now is a great time to make a tactical substitution and replaces Mattias Jonson with Christian Wilhelmsson. The further delayed penalty is inevitably missed as Larsson balloons it over the bar. What was Lagerback thinking? Could it be he thought "This will be saved but Wilhelmsson is the best player in the world at scoring from penalty rebounds so I must bring him on?" Answers on a postcard to Lars Lagerback, c/o Swedish FA, Råsunda Stadium, Solna, Stockholm, Sweden.
Steve Davies