Little Boy Blue's World Cup Diary - Day 1

Last updated : 31 May 2002 By Little Boy Blue
May 31st

This is it, the first game, but first the opening ceremony. The usual talkalot posturing from Blatter and politicians who wouldn't know a goal from a goat, then all the prancing around around the pitch, while no doubt cleverly choreographed and the product of much hard work, does nothing for me. Thankfully, it is all relatively brief and the real business is soon under way.

Zidaneless FRANCE are red-hot favourites and were quite impressive against Scotland recently. But c'mon, it was only Scotland. They certainly didn't look too clever in subsequent games against Russia and Belgium and, although not disputing the quality in the squad, they are not my tip to win the trophy - my 'long shots' don't play until Monday (check out the schedule FFers!). And the early play of the French does nothing to prompt a rethink. Their back four relies much too heavily on the offside trap, a ploy which can be punished by one well-timed run or one dozy linesman, and inside the first 25 minutes Barthez has had his first fumble.

SENEGAL have nothing to lose in this situation. Everybody expects them to get gubbed so simply keeping the scoreline respectable is acceptable but, remembering Cameroon and Nigeria before them, they wouldn't be the first African nation to pull off a World Cup shock. I had a wee giggle when Clive Tildesley (ITV's representative on Glasgow District Council!!!) explained that the entire Senegalese team ply their trade in the French League and, when talking about one player, threw in the priceless line 'he wasn't even born in Senegal'. I can't wait to hear what he has to say when he does an Irish game!!!

Whoopsadaisy, what have we here? Half-an-hour on the clock and it's 1-0 to Senegal, with the hilarious double act of Petit and Barthez presenting Papa Bouba Diop (make up a song about a name like that, Bouncy Boys!) with a tap-in. As so often happens, the goal arrived at a time when the French looked like they'd put their iffy start behind them and were very unlucky to see Trezeguet's shot rebound from the post. But apart from a couple of speculative free-kicks, Senegal survive to half-time without too much trouble.

France do, however, look a bit busier after the break and there is a sense that the equaliser is inevitable as Henry, Trezeguet and Vieira all go close. But hold that result! Fadiga rattles the French bar in a breakaway. Could that be the turning point? Henry clips the crossbar as France hit back but, as the final 15 minutes ensue, the favourites look vulnerable to the counterattack, despite forcing a procession of corners. Five to go and Le Boeuf fires one straight at the keeper then, right on the 90th minute, Silva defies Henry. Three minutes of injury time later it is all over and World Cup 2002 has its first surprise result. Great!

But it would be daft to write off the French after one hiccup. This could be the wake-up call they've needed and, if my memory serves me correctly, they weren't over-convincing at the start of the 1998 competition or Euro 2000. As I've said earlier, I don't think they'll win it but neither do I think they'll be taking a leaf out of Scotland's World Cup Handbook by joining the early homecomers.

ITV's coverage of such a prestigious event strikes me as being no better than average, with more attention being paid to England affairs than the matter at hand. But it is good to see Gazza and Coisty in the same studio, although I get a bit miffed when Not-quite-so-super Ally adds to the non-story about Gers fans queuing up to buy England shirts. Without being drawn into any petty nationalistic debate, I am distinctly indifferent towards England. I wish them no harm but I sincerely hope they don't win it. Having been reminded of events in 1966 only marginally less than that other fluke result of a year later, I'm less than keen to see the English media given any opportunity to update their crawing.

As we have been reminded throughout the opening match, England face Sweden on Sunday morning and it is club loyalty which determines where my heart will lie on that occasion, not any barmy Tartan Army sentiments. I look forward to seeing Larsson's falling-down antics and Mjallby's all-in wrestling falling foul of the much-hyped FIFA crack-down. But I wouldn't bet my last shekel on it!

So that is Day One of LBB's World Cup Diary over. With today's game having kicked off at lunchtime, this will have been my last long lie-in for a month or so but the forthcoming 7.30 a.m. kickoffs will do no more than rekindle memories of Rangers' High Noon starts against FC Semtex. Yes, the Budweiser breakfast has a lot going for it!!!

Until tomorrow's hungover instalment...