Monday, June 28, 2010

"They'll hit you and hurt you..."

‘SOME things you will see – and some you will not see.’
So smiled Jerome Valcke, Sepp Blatter’s right-hand man at Fifa, as he talked up officials on the eve of yesterday’s England-Germany encounter.
But he was talking about those providing extra security outside the ground, not the match officials doing so much for English insecurity within.
What at least 15,000 England fans did see – but not one Uruguayan in charge – was that rarest of sightings: a World Cup ‘goal’ by Frank Lampard.
A World Cup shot in target by Lampard was startling enough, which might explain Mauricio Espinosa’s apparent daze.
What then went missing was the equalizer for England, surely sparking campaigns for not only (Monte)video technology, but a 43-year statute of limitations on claiming for goal-line karma.
All this will have been seen by Valcke’s boss Sepp Blatter, a strangely low-profile presence at this World Cup – apart from Blatter’s ‘tweets’, or ‘bleats’, on Twitter.
He had let followers know he was on his way to Bloemfontein, though probably didn’t see the same traffic jams as England fans taking the only main road in – the N1 from Johannesburg.
Struggling along that highway from Jo’burg wouldn’t be England’s last difficulty of the day caused by the route-one approach.
An abandoned, emergency-landed light aircraft sat by the side of the road, about 25km north of the stadium – another odd sight, and perhaps an omen.
A warning that sky-high aspirations might be brought down to earth with a bump?
Or that you won’t go far if you set out with only one proper wing.
Supporters making their way along Bloemfontein’s Nelson Mandela Drive – no South African city should be without one – might have noticed Swiss fans had left a more lasting mark than their team managed.
Spraypainted across street furniture was the optimistic – or perhaps ambiguous – ‘Allez Suisse’. Allez oops.
Perhaps that was done by mischievous Swiss mister Blatter himself.
What no one could have missed inside the stadium itself were English flags everywhere – just as there had been in Rustenburg the previous evening, reminders of how the journey to glory was supposed to pan out.
Back in Bloemfontein when the ref finally ended yesterday’s misery, England fans stooped in the stands or slumped in their seats seemed in no mood to blame him – well, not blame him alone, anyway.
How typically, eccentrically English it all felt, to be so authentically robbed – and yet so emphatically outclassed at the same time.
For what everyone did see yesterday was a sluggish, unimaginative England bamboozled by Germans showing more devastating intelligence, incisiveness and just counter-attacking zip.
Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller rightly enjoyed the acclaim - along with Joachim Low, who had the faith to promote them from the U-21s, just as Louis Van Gaal fast-tracked and transformed raw Bayern talents into Champions League finalists.
But Bastian Schweinsteiger also showed up - even more - the sorry and out-of-shape Gareth Barry, combining composed rigour in defensive midfield with dynamic and intelligent surges into attack when suitable. A holding-midfielder-PLUS, the instincts and technique of a winger still simmering.
Meanwhile, England - having shifted John Terry uncomfortably to the right of central defence, all the better to showcase Matthew Upson's clod-hopping left foot - remained dulled and doltish throughout.
Even when they did put a few passes together, they tended to be the shortest and most exchanged across a flat-back-four, as if filling a quota before invariably allowing themselves the treat of ... an aimless, witless punt up-field.
Pass-pass-pass-pass ... hoof, back to Neuer.
Germany even did that old English staple, the long ball, better.
On the eve of the match, Valcke also said Fifa never expected a ‘zero-fault’ tournament.
That time he was talking about referees and linesmen – and this time few could argue.
Though he could have been referring to English defenders.

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