June 21...Day 22
What did I do with myself before this World Cup started? I've grown so accustomed to the early morning starts, I can't remember things being any other way. Two days without any 'live' games on the box was torture, almost as bad as two days without a swally. Almost, not quite!!! But today is the day I've been looking forward to for so long, the day when the English hype machine gets switched off and those boys from BRAZIL are just the boys to do it. Please God make it happen.
The big man appears to have heard my prayers. Brazil ran ENGLAND ragged at the start. While Rivaldo was again quiet, Ronaldo looked like he was on fire and Ronaldinho, of whom so much has been expected, began to look the part. For long spells the English couldn't get a kick of the ball but they did well to keep the scoresheet blank. Never mind, it was only a matter of time. Wasn't it?
My big worry about Brazil has been their defensive frailties and in Lucio they've got a guy who, not unlike my big pal Amo, tends to play too much football in the wrong areas. Several times during Bayer Leverkusen's run to the European Cup Final he lived very dangerously and, having got away with it so often, he has continued to take chances. He got found out midway through the first half when Heskey tried to find Owen. All Lucio had to do was let the ball drift wide then welly it towards the nearest cloud. But he chose to try and control it on his thigh, on the edge of the box of all places, he made a mess of it and, aw naw!, Owen pounced to open the scoring.
This was my nightmare scenario. Having been played off the park, England had got their noses in front and I worried about them shutting the game down and frustrating their opponents...and me! But a class acts like the Brazilians don't panic in such situations. They kept passing the ball to those lovely blue jerseys and got what they deserved just before the interval. Ronaldinho broke forward at pace, running from the halfway line and drawing defenders to him, before slipping the neatest of balls to Rivaldo who simply passed it low into the corner of the net.
It was important for Brazil to be back on level terms before the break. I rate Sven Goran Eriksson the best manager in the world and I have no doubt he would have got his troops organized, restructured their game plan to hold their 1-0 lead and they would now have the semi-finals to look forward to. But the equalizer turned the game Brazil's way and I rubbed my hands in anticipation of the winner. I didn't have long to wait.
Four minutes after the restart, Brazil won a free-kick in midfield. Everyone was looking for a dink into the middle but Ronaldinho spotted Seaman nipping out for a pint, floated the ball to where the keeper should have been and, with Robbie Earle's player of the tournament flapping to get back, whoopeedoo!, it's 2-1 for Brazil. With Seaman caught up in the net like a fish who knows it will be tomorrow's dinner, my mind backtracked seven years to the Cup-Winners Cup Final when Real Zaragoza's Nayim chipped Seaman from the halfway line. Some people never learn.
At this point I expected Brazil to turn on the style and rattle in another two or three. But Ronaldinho had a brainstorm, got himself red-carded and gave England new hope. Now, however, we saw a different side to Brazil.
Instead of being a team of showboaters, they showed a willingness to work, denying England time and space. There were times when it looked like it was the English who were down to ten men. Brazil were simply too good for them and the result was apparent long before the final whistle blew.
Of course, the after-match discussion surrounds the winning goal. Did he mean it or did he just get lucky with a bad cross? It amazes me how some supposedly intelligent people can talk such megadross. Check out Ronaldinho's run up to the ball. He saw Seaman going walkabout and took full advantage. Yet all the media men write off the goal as a fluke.
Does it matter? The ball went between the sticks, England are out and I can turn up the sound on my TV again. I might even start buying papers! While Brazil v England was the day's main event, I also had a more than passing interest in the other game. Claudio Reyna's presence in the USA team means I have a soft spot for the septic tanks but, as I plan to be swallying with my big pal The Koelsch on World Cup Final day, he might be a bit more hospitable if GERMANY are involved. So I was genuinely neutral for this one, although I was very impressed by the way America started the game. They went for it right from the off and, had it not been for that big gorilla Oliver Kahn (I'll never forgive him for doing Michael Mols!), they would surely have gone ahead.
Predictably, Germany weathered the storm, then did a bit of damage themselves when Ballack scored with an excellent header and they came close to killing the game stone dead when Klose hit the post with another header just before half-time. The Americans kept plugging away in the second half and should have had a penalty when Frings stuck out an arm to block a McBride effort on the goal-line but controversial referee Mr Bonkle from Dallas heard Claudio Reyna's claim and, wearing his SPL head, decided he didn't see it.
You sensed it was not going to be America's day and in the end the Germans held out, even threatening to add to their lead once or twice in the latter stages. I felt a bit sorry for the Yanks but, being a little selfish, Germany's victory could make next week's trip to Cologne very interesting. Look out for a few spelling mistakes in my World Cup Final Diary!!!
So yet another excellent World Cup day has come and gone. The worst German team in history is in the semi-finals while the team who gubbed them 5-1 in the qualifying competition is on the way home. Snigger, snigger. Maybe England will now reissue their 1970 World Cup song to mark their progress. The title? Back Home.
LITTLE BOY BLUE