LITTLE BOY BLUE'S WORLD CUP DIARY DAY 6.
It's June 5, Day Six of World Cup 2002, and Little Boy Blue continues his Mundial Marathon.
After yet another goalless first half, I'm tempted to give these early morning rises a miss. Instead of stirring myself from my slumbers for a 7.30 kick-off, I could have stayed between the blankets until 8.15, just in time to hear Coisty, Robbo and Jocko (Bob Wilson!) lament a dire 45 minutes from RUSSIA and TUNISIA.
Indeed, there has been such a lack of activity on the field that the TV team spend the interval debating the 'no-nonsense' response to Rivaldo's pathetic behaviour in getting Turkey's Hakan Unsal sent off on Monday. Did FIFA bottle it? Of course they did! What sort of punishment is a five grand fine to a man of Rivaldo's wealth? Time to pay, m'lud? Take him down! With games to come against China and Costa Rica, a two-match ban wouldn't do too much damage to Brazil...but it would have sent out a message loud and clear to all those would-be Thespians that this is the World Cup, not a RADA audition!!!
Thankfully, the game picks up in the second Half. Titov and Karpin produce the goals to deliver a 2-0 victory but the Ruskis will have to be a lot sharper for their forthcoming games against Japan and Belgium if they hope to progress beyond the group stage.
Having heard one of the local know-it-alls tip Portugal as a 'dark horse', I enjoy a wee giggle. Or maybe he said 'cart horse'. Beto pulls one back before half-time and, as is the BBC way, 1966 gets a mention but, surprise surprise, not a word about Geoff Hurst's two-goal hat-trick. Those of us not in our first flush of youth can remember Portugal giving North Korea a three goal start, then bouncing back to win 5-3. Action replay time? Get real! On the evidence of the first half, I wouldn't even fancy this lot against the Saudis. But wait, right on the stroke of half-time Rui Costa fires in a 20-yarder which grazes the post. Maybe, just maybe...
Portugal are a completely different team after the break. They are in complete control, they pile on the pressure and an Agoos OG makes for an enthralling final 20 minutes but, while it worked wonders for entertainment value, their sloppy first half show has left them too much to do. And it could cost them dearly. Even if they see off Poland on Monday, the Portuguese could find themselves having to beat co-hosts South Korea in their final fixture. Hardly the ideal scenario.
This match completes the shadow-boxing of the first series of matches and, having seen all 32 qualifiers, I'm not inclined to change too many of my pre-tournament views. Brazil remain my favourites, Germany are not as bad as they want us to think they are, England, Italy, Argentina, France and Spain have so much more to offer and joint hosts Japan and South Korea have played above themselves. Senegal, Cameroon and Nigeria can all do some damage, Portugal must do much better, the rest can start packing now.
Both sides are reasonably positive at the start but the Germans seem to see the Breen-Staunton partnership as the soft centre of the Irish defence and go a long way towards proving the point after 18 minutes when Miroslav Klose scores with a classic centre-forward's header. Not bad for a winger!!! Predictably, Ireland are still up for the fight but I reckon coming back from 1-0 down against Germany is going to be a damned sight more difficult that coming back against Cameroon.
It takes a great Kahn save from Duff to preserve Germany's lead. However, I'm getting pissed off with Clive Tyldesley and Ron Atkinson prattling on about Carsten Jancker being a 'non-scoring striker' so I'd like nothing more than to see the big fella shut them up big time and I think my dream has come true when he is through on top of Shay Given, only to see him shoot wide. Maybe Rudi Voller shares the view of the men in the commentary box. Moments later it's 'taxi for Jancker'.
Still, Ireland keep plugging away but, as the minutes tick on, they are vulnerable to being caught on the break and my big pal The Koelsch's pre-match e-mail forecast '2-0 fur Deutschland' looks good. Aw shut up ya numpty!!! Two minutes into injury time Niall Quinn knocks the ball down to Robbie Keane and bang! it's 1-1. Peter Lovenkrands couldn't have timed it better!
Now Ireland look the best bet to join Germany in the knock-out rounds. All they have to do is get goals against the Saudis to be safe...or will they regret missing out on scorers like Patrick from Cameroon and O'Brien from America? Only time will tell but, if they don't go through, they will have 'no excuses'.
LITTLE BOY BLUE