On the road to BerlinSo the circus starts and England are too dull to be the clowns. I stayed up to watching England/Paraguay but I was at a birthday party, drunk, and had been up at five the previous morning. England were, I'm sad to say, not able to keep me awake. I fell asleep in the first half, woke up and went home at half time, and fell asleep again about three minutes into the second half. Because SBS have the rights and they are not repeating every match, and I don't know how to fix up my video (I could work it out but I have cultivated an inability to work technical things that prevents Mrs Zen from employing me as a handyman about the place), I didn't get to see the match. What I did see was the usual: England play 442 and their football is excruciating to watch. What more can you say? We clearly have the quality to get out of our group, and we should be able to beat whoever we face in the first knockout round. We'll be eliminated by the first half-decent side we play.
So my World Cup began with Ecuador/Poland. It was encouraging to see teams play open, attractive football, or try to. I had been worried that with the success of Greece a couple of years ago, half the teams would play ultradefensively, stifling anything resembling creativity. But both teams here tried manfully. Poland might wish they had played a little more tightly, because Ecuador, allowed to play football, constructed a couple of nice goals. Poland had a couple of useful players: Szymkowski (? can't be bothered finding out what his name actually was) in particular showed excellent vision and a good passing range. I wouldn't entirely write them off.
Germany/Costa Rica was also a lively match. Germany showed willing, but they'll be concerned at how poorly their defence played against Wanchope, who is very much a second-grade striker but had the pace and nous to get in behind them several times. Mertesacker, in particular, does not look good enough or fast enough at this level. Germany were good value for their win though. Their workmanlike football is always going to make them chances against weak sides, and they've never had any problems making chances pay.
Argentina/Cote d'Ivoire was a cracker, as expected. Argentina left Messi on the bench, but Riquelme was brilliant. His pass for the second goal was something very special. He wanders in and out of games, which makes him frustrating to watch but also difficult for his opponents to keep track of. Saviola, disappointing ever since he came to Europe, showed signs that he has finally woken up and realised he has enormous talent. He had a fantastic match, lively and perceptive. Cote d'Ivoire were always likely to rue the draw that has put them in with two of the tournament's stronger sides, but they were not overawed. For a lot of the match it was end-to-end stuff. Argentina, despite fielding a hatful of defensive midfielders, do not keep it tight. They had faith in their ability to attack and create goals, which was merited of course, but left a lot of space for Cote d'Ivoire's creative and skilful midfield. Zokora looked particularly good. He will surely move from St Etienne to one of the bigger clubs after this tournament. His willingness to run into good positions is rare in a midfielder whose game is basically to sit back and run the midfield. Comparisons with Vieira could be in order, although Zokora is not as imposing. Cote d'Ivoire don't look a bad side at all, although they have their problems at the back, Kolo Toure notwithstanding, and did make plenty of chances. I wouldn't count them out because neither Serbia nor Holland looked any good to me. I can see the Ivoiriens getting behind Holland's slowish defence, and Serbia, although solid, lack threat. I didn't strictly speaking remain awake throughout the match, which is further proof that marijuana and dull football combine to make an excellent sedative.