Little Boy Blue's World Cup Diary - Day 9

Last updated : 09 June 2002 By Little Boy Blue

If only I had known.  When Nomvethe bundled a Quentin Fortune free-kick into the net after only four minutes I rubbed my hands in anticipation of a game and a half.  After all, nothing lifts a match more than an early goal and, with both SOUTH AFRICA and SLOVENIA still having realistic hopes of progressing to the knock-out stages, the scene was set for a humdinger.  Wrong!  I should have gone back to my kip where I might have enjoyed a dream about a good game.

Slovenia were nothing short of a disgrace.  Although beaten by Spain on Sunday, all was far from lost but, amidst stories of unrest in their camp, they simply didn't look interested.  Indeed, they can count themserlves fortunate that Benni McCarthy was playing with his eyes closed, otherwise they would have suffered a right bleaching.

Of course, lack of talking points from this game gave the ITV pundits the chance to do a bit more crawing about England's victory over Argentina and, boy oh boy, did they relish that?  It was the same when I switched over to the BBC.  Instead of previewing ITALY V CROATIA, all we get is England England England.  And after a quiet start in Ibaraki, I'm pleading for someone to do something, just to give the studio panel something else to talk about at the interval.

Only Doni comes close for Italy and Vugrinec threatens for Croatia so the half-time break is spent with Garth Crooks telling us how the England team celebrated their win.  Praise the Lord and pass the Valium!!!  C,mon Italy, c,mon Croatia, somebody get the finger out!  Thank you, Christian Vieri.

Italy's big Aussie is frustrated when a goal is disallowed early in the second half but a few minutes later he scores with a header and they think they've cracked it.  The Italians really are an irritating lot.  They let Ecuador off the hook on Monday when they could have gone for the jugular and now they look quite happy to stroll to a 1-0 win which would just about book their place in the next round.  But the Croatians decide to change the rules.

Olic equalizes after 73 minutes and the Italians are still in a state of shock when Rapaic makes it 2-1 three minutes later.  Suddenly it dawns on Trappatoni's superstars that things are far from hunky-dory and they have to give themselves a shake.  Totti hits the post with a free-kick but time is not on their side and having a goal chalked off in injury time only underlines the trouble they have got themselves into.  And it could be big trouble!

Assuming Mexico gub Ecuador tomorrow and Croatia do likewise next Thursday, it is conceivable that there will be a three-way tie at the top of the group with Italy, Mexico and Croatia all sitting on the six point mark.  The determining factor could be the number of goals scored against Ecuador and, as I suggested on Monday, Italy might live to regret settling for a 2-0 victory over the group's whipping boys.  Serves them right!

BRAZIL are not guilty of mucking about in similar circumstances and I'm expecting them to rattle in a barrowload against CHINA.  After a spirited start by the Chinese, Roberto Carlos got the show on the road with a 15th minute free-kick but, somewhat surprisingly, the goal rush did not materialise, with only a close range shot from Rivaldo and a Ronaldinho penalty kick adding to the scoreline before half-time.  Have I overrated Brazil or underrated China?  My expectation of double figures is clearly well wide of the mark.

My favourites tend to overcook it in the second half.  Ronaldo gets a fourth ten minutes after the restart and they spend the rest of the time showboating.  But unlike the Italians, Brazil get the job done before taking the foot off the gas.  Another comfortable outing is on the cards when they meet Costa Rica next Thursday so, with the exception of a brief fright against Turkey, they should coast through to the second round without having shed too much sweat.

Brazil now look set to face Belgium in the next round and, should a few ifs buts and maybes come to pass, they could be lining up against Argentina in the quarter-finals.  My one worry about the Brazilians at this stage is that their defence wobbled a bit when tested by Turkey and they allowed the Chinese to create a few promising situations towards the end of today's match.  Then again, with the Three Rs - Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho - up front, who needs defenders?

Get your money on them now before the odds shorten any further!