Friday, June 16, 2006

Reasons To Be Cheerful

Sweden-Paraguay to follow this afternoon, I promise. In the light of England's performance yesterday and the storm of criticism that has come their way, I woke up this morning feeling a bit negative about this whole World Cup thing. Time enough, I think, to take a look at some positives from this year's tournament so far, yes? It's best to remind ourselves of why we're here, because it has been a terrific tournament so far. This is a personal selection, in no particular order:

1. Terrific Matches - We've had some great games already, and we're not even half-way through the group stage yet. There have only been a couple of goal-less draws so far, and even those matches were gripping. There's plenty of drama to come yet, and the gulf between rich and poor isn't as big as it has been in previous years.

2. Extraordinary Goals - From Germany's opening strike through to Steven Gerrard's perfect twenty-yarder for England last night, players aren't afraid to shoot from distance. We've already seen a good half-dozen goals fit enough to grace any World Cup finals.

3. England's Supporters - There's anything from 50000-100000 out there at the moment, and all indications that they're behaving themselves. It's too early to say for certain whether it'll stay like this, and there'll be more than a few of us that'll be keeping our fingers crossed that we don't draw Germany, but the question does beg to be asked... are we at the point of turning the corner with regards to hooliganism?

4. Brazil Are Human - Anybody that saw their performance against Croatia last week will agree that this isn't necessarily going to be the easy amble to Berlin for Brazil that many people predicted before the tournament started. This can only be a good thing.

5. Punishment for defensive football - Poland came, decided to throw eleven men behind the ball for 90 minutes, and were sent packing with a match to spare. One can only hope that other teams that choose to play negatively will go the same way.

6. England's Defence - Forget about the (very legtitmate) concerns about Owen's form, Rooney's knee and Sven's tactics. England's defence have been outstanding so far, and John Terry has been one of the players of the tournament so far. Without a doubt, the best central defender in Europe, and surely the next England captain.

7. Trying To Forget The War - Whilst the press haven't exactly covered themselves in glory, we have at least begun to see the start of a movement to get rid of references to the war when talking about footbal. It's twenty-five years too late, and it may make no difference, but it's a start.

8. A Shift In Opinion - Is it only me thinking this, or is it thoroughly heartening to see the amount of praise being lavished on the German and Argentinian teams on boards, blogs and websites? It's refreshing to see supporters getting over their own prejudices to applaud teams for what they're doing on the pitch.

9. Portable Television - There is plenty of criticism that can be levelled at the BBC and ITV for their coverage of the tournament so far. However, it's worth pointing out that the BBC's brave decision to put all of their matches to watch as streams is paying off. There have been few complaints about the quality of the streams so far, and it provides a real service to people unable to be in front of a television.

10. Typical German Efficiency - Apart from a couple of minor glitches, the tournament has been terrifically organised so far and, as most reports have confirmed, the Germans have been polite, good-humoured and accomodating hosts. They've set a high standard for South Africa to follow in four years time.


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