Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Drink to me, drink to my health..."

DESPITE scowling when subbed and still looking a little out of touch, Wayne Rooney might now raise a toast to the ‘loyal support’ who yesterday laid off the boos – while getting stuck into the booze.
Many England fans were already celebrating a result even before kick-off, checking their change in pleasant surprise after stocking up on bottles of beer for 13 Rand, or £1.15, apiece.
Little wonder the bars surrounding Port Elizabeth’s Nelson Mandela Bay stadium were crammed about as tight as Diego Maradona into his suit, as clogged with grappling bodies as the Slovenian box at set-pieces.
The England faithful were not the only ones supping up for the cup.
John Terry’s attempted putsch over a pint might have fizzled out over the weekend.
But Fabio Capello has suggested that getting the beers in the night before action might have stopped time being called on England’s World Cup crawl.
He even smiled as he announced the players’ Tuesday evening tipple, his shoulders suddenly loosening as if he’d actually been carrying the kegs on his own over-burdened back.
‘YOU’RE playing Slovenia? Two million people? And you’re frightened? Impossible!’
Nevertheless, even as one of the World Cup’s most notable minnow-magnets flapped his arms in contempt, England fans had hands shaking, knees trembling and fingernails being bitten down to the marrow.
Especially when Slovenia launched a stoppage-time raid on the penalty area, Matthew Upson lunged in – and nightmare visions of Phil Neville at Euro 2000 flashed by, fortunately too soon.
The morning’s contemptuous critic was Bora Milutinovic, who has at least enjoyed World Cup triumphs over such European superpowers as Spain, Sweden and ... Scotland.
Compared to five-timer Bora, Capello’s a World Cup novice – though this tournament alone already seems to have lasted a lifetime.
That Costa Rica embarrassment of the Scots came 20 years ago, in the tournament Jamie Carragher has been avidly re-viewing on satellite TV.
Back then, Bobby Robson’s men endured plenty of ridicule, dressing-room dissent, a 1-1, a 0-0 and a scrappy 1-0 before a transformative surge to the semi-finals.
Amid a blizzard of flags in the Port Elizabeth stands, proudly showing off more red crosses than Wayne Rooney’s old schoolbooks, one wry banner yesterday read: ‘Things can only get better.’
But if some fans want to party like it’s 1990 – fine...

JUBILANT England fans enjoyed drinking at the last-chance saloon as choruses of ‘In-Ger-Lund’ and ‘God Save The Queen’ rang out around Port Elizabeth.
Fabio Capello’s men were cheered on to victory by the overwhelming majority of the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium’s 36,893-strong crowd.
Even a smattering of pre-match grumbles when Wayne Rooney’s name was announced failed to mar the mood once the game kicked off.
Rooney, forced to apologise at the weekend for sarcastically condemning England’s ‘loyal support’, had his every touch cheered when the game kicked off – and chants in his honour were among the most-sung.
South African police and specialist squads sent over from the UK were on stand-by for any disorder, especially if England were knocked out by either a draw or defeat.
There were also concerns about security inside the stadium, with police on duty in place of stewards after a pay dispute caused contract staff walk-outs last week.
Yet spirits seemed to remain high, both in the hours before 4pm local time kick-off and in the hours after the final whistle.
English flags bearing the St George’s cross covered all areas of the newly-built stadium, even though organisers had tried to keep English, Slovenian and South African fans separate.
In both the petal design-inspired venue, and packed bars in the surrounding streets, England fans were estimated to outnumber Slovenian supporters by at least ten to one.
Keven Osborne, 27 and from Chichester, described the ambience throughout yesterday as far more positive than for the previous games against the USA and Algeria.
He said: ‘Before those matches, I felt nervy, but even before the kick-off yesterday, the atmosphere among the fans just felt better.
‘There was a more confident feel, even though we knew we had to win – and that showed on the pitch, with the players too.
‘When the goal went in, the place went mental – my friends and I ended up in the row behind, six of us all on top of each other.
The England support’s noise even managed to overwhelm the din of the vuvuzelas, the controversial horns which have dominated the tournament’s soundtrack.
Much-heard chants during the match yesterday included ‘In-ger-lund, In-ger-lund, In-ger-lund’, songs hailing Rooney, the national anthem and ‘Rule Britannia’.
‘Singing ‘you can stick your vuvuzelas up you’re a***’ was also quite popular,’ Mr Osborne added.
Simon Jasinski, 30, from Portsmouth, said: ‘I thought we would either go on a four-goal rampage – or sneak it nervously. The important thing is, we’ve made progress.
‘The bars around the ground have been jam-packed all day, and England flags have been placed literally all over the stadium. Everyone’s been up for it, right from the start.
‘The South African people have been really friendly too, with a lot of them saying they want England to do well.’
Mr Jasinski was also pleased England’s second-round tie will now be Sunday, not Saturday, after they finished group runners-up.
‘I fly home on Saturday, so this means I’ll now be able to watch it on TV, instead of getting the score from the pilot,’ he said.

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